At last! A terrific thriller has surfaced in this grim movie summer. “Red Eye” is so much fun that most of the audience covered their faces with their hands to ward off impending calamity and by the end, burst into spontaneous applause of relief.
The movie starts and ends with a bang and is held together in between by a great big ball of suspense that lodges neatly in your chest for two hours. The story has a good, strong, simple plot, several excellent performances, a crackling script and a score that lets you know nothing good lies ahead.
The big surprise is that this is not a terrorist movie about airplanes. Though it is set on a plane, it is really an old-fashioned espionage movie, a battle of wits between Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) and Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy). Lisa is a sharp-eyed sophisticated manager of customer relations for a luxury hotel in Miami. On the way to the Dallas/ Ft. Worth airport for the trip home, she fields hotel problems while juggling her cell phone dial as if it’s an extension of her nimble fingers. During a flight delay she meets Jackson Rippner, a charmer who buys her a drink at the bar and ends up sitting next to her on the plane. When Lisa asks Jackson “What do you do?” he answers truthfully and both she and the audience stiffen.
Director Wes Craven uses the first part of the movie to remind us just how uncivilized flying has become. Endless airport lines, unexplained delays, bottom line service. On board at last, seat belts click, door bars latch – “Complementary soft drinks, juice and coffee,” crowded, stuffy, unpleasant, and finally, trapped. Craven’s atmosphere conveys the claustrophobia many people feel in the silver tube and sets up the unfolding drama of this particular flight.
Rachel McAdams creates a smart, resourceful executive who can cope with nearly anything, a real relief from heroines who await a White Knight. To balance her strong performance, Cillian Murphy manages to nail us to our seats. An unusual looking guy with a laser gaze, he makes Jackson charming one moment, terrifying the next. Once we know who he is, a mere snarl or a stare can force us to close our eyes. This actor is one of the best bad guys to come along in eons, the kind you’ll never quite trust if he plays a good guy because his Jackson Rippner in this movie is a defining role.
It’s a fine supporting cast all round, but the bitter chemistry between McAdams and Murphy is what infuses the movie with grim anticipation. The fact that they and director Craven lure us to a state of fear without overkill is a triumph. What could be better than a thriller without crashes, car chases, bombs or blood? Straightforward, brainy manipulation of the audience does the job here. Don’t miss it.
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