Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.
I’ve been a Wes Craven fan for a long time. I have nothing but respect for the guy who created some of the most legendary horror movies, franchises, and characters in existence. I love that one of the clauses in his contract for directing Scream was that he got to direct Music of the Heart, and that Wes Craven has directed a scene shared between Meryl Streep and Itzhak Perlman. I was curious when it came to Red Eye; it’s clear right away that this is going to be lesser Craven. It could still be a good or even great film, but it’s never going to rise to the Scream or A Nightmare on Elm Street.
We begin our tale in the company of Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), a manager at a swanky, upscale Miami hotel. Lisa is boarding a plane to return to Miami from Dallas after attending the funeral of her grandmother. The flights are all delayed, though, and Lisa is dealing as well as she can with that and with current issues at her hotel. Her coworker Cynthia (Jayma Mays) is dealing with a number of issues, the main one being the arrival of Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia), the Deputy Chief of Homeland Security. As she is waiting for her flight to finally board, Lisa makes the acquaintance of Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), who is also on her flight.
Once we’re airborne (with Lisa and Jackson in adjoining seats), Red Eye takes its first major turn. We discover that Jackson Rippner’s association at the airport with Lisa is no mistake or coincidence. He is, in fact, a highly-paid organizer who functions as a covert operative. In the course of his duties, he organizes assassinations and topples governments. His current assignment is to assassinate Charles Keefe. This concerns Lisa because to make that happen more easily, he needs her to move him to a different suite. And to ensure that that happens in a timely manner, he’s more or less threatening to kill her father (Brian Cox).
The first two-thirds of Red Eye are an interesting cat-and-mouse game that takes place aboard a passenger airplane. Much of the action takes place literally in the two seats occupied by Lisa and Jackson, although the action does move away from that spot a couple of times. Both of the characters are very smart, which helps matters tremendously. This is a thriller where the characters are truly attempting to get one step ahead of the other, and their methods for doing so are often clever even if they are sometimes desperate.
It’s in the third act where Red Eye falls apart completely for me. Once the plane lands in Miami, this becomes more or less a straight action film with slasher overtones. Lisa—who we figure to this point in her life has been a generally law-abiding citizen—steals a vehicle to attempt to get to her father’s house. In fact, she breaks a number of laws en route to Daddy’s house. For a film that plays its first hour or so as a taut, psychological thriller, having this become more or less a minor installment in the Lethal Weapon series is frustrating and a little infuriating.
I like the cast here quite a bit. I can’t say that I have strong opinions about Rachel McAdams, but she is quite good in this. It’s nice to see someone in a role like this who appears to be comfortable playing a character with a brain. Lisa is smart and resourceful, and McAdams makes this work frequently through a pointed look or a mildly extended pause. I do like Cilliam Murphy, and I love that he’s playing a heavy in this. Murphy plays villainous well. I also love Brian Cox, and wish he were in this a little more than he is.
But, the third act is a serious problem. The presence of a rocket launcher in this film bothers me in a real way. Again, it feels like we’ve jumped into a cop movie. To have Jackson Rippner become yet another Energizer Bunny bad guy who gets brutally wounded but still keeps coming back grows old as well. What we also learn in the third act is that the old trope of the victim running and the bad guy walking but still catching up holds true with cars as well. Lisa has a huge head start leaving the airport, a head start that includes literally stealing a car as well as literally knowing where her father lives in Miami, and this lead evaporates because the plot needs Jackson to get to her father’s house.
Red Eye isn’t a terrible film, but it’s not a good one, either. It’s serviceable and little more. What I’d suggest is watching it on your own. If the ending bothers you or doesn’t make sense to you, you’re almost certainly okay. I mean, it makes sense; it just doesn't make sense.
Why to watch Red Eye: It’s a good, compact thriller.
Why not to watch: The third act stretches plausibility to put it nicely.