Red-Eye--a thriller about a woman who gets a nasty surprise on a late-night flight--is thankfully short, sweet and to the point. While maybe farfetched, it still achieves its goal very succinctly.
One thing Red-Eye does very well is nail the palpable tension involved in air travel these days. We meet Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) at an airport, first rushing around and then waiting and waiting and waiting for her delayed red-eye to leave. We all feel her pain. During the lag time, she enjoys a brief flirtation with a seemingly charming man named Jackson (Cillian Murphy)--and when they finally board the plane, she finds she is seated next to him. Coincidence? I think not. Moments after a rough takeoff that sets Lisa, who's afraid to fly, on edge, Jackson drops the cute-guy routine and menacingly reveals that he is an operative in a plot to kill the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security--and Lisa is the key to its success. Here's the kicker: If she doesn't cooperate, her father will be killed on Jackson's command. Well, that's a fine how-do-you-do. But as is typical in these situations, the villain sorely underestimates his victim. It only takes a few faltering moments before you can just see the wheels turning in Lisa's whip-smart brain as she tries to figure out how to get out of this horrible situation--with herself, her dad, the target (whom she knows, of course) and anyone else who crosses Jackson intact.
In basically what is a two-character piece, McAdams and Murphy do a nice dance together. McAdams is proving to be a highly versatile actress. She hit the radar playing a mean girl in Mean Girls and then scored huge as the plucky ingénue in the sappily romantic The Notebook. She even kept up with the likes of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in this summer's raucous comedy Wedding Crashers. Now, she's tackling the action heroine thing and--wouldn't you know it?--pulls that off as well. Maybe it's because McAdams has a refreshing and natural spunkiness which she infuses in all her characters. As Lisa, she gets emotional, dealing with this seemingly no-win situation, but never once do you question whether she is tough enough to beat the bastard at his own game. And as said bastard, Murphy (28 Days Later) adds a unique flavor to the standard bad guy role. He's entirely believable, flirting with Lisa, perhaps even falling for her slightly. Those piercing blue eyes, which can be at once attractive and also a little unsettling, do you in. But when she threatens his masculinity, oh boy, all hell breaks loose.
Although Red-Eye may not employ a homicidal disfigured maniac with knives for fingers or a homicidal maniac in a Scream mask, director Wes Craven, whose given us the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream series, still knows how to thrill an audience. Red-Eye is arguably the best thing he's done since the first Scream, and at a mere 85 minutes, he keeps the action at a break-neck, claustrophobic pace. You have little time to realize how implausible it all is, especially once Lisa gets off the plane and starts to undo all of those best-laid assassination plans. In a recent interview with Hollywood.com, Craven admits he didn't cut any scenes from Red-Eye but simply pared down each one to its essence. It works. I think all thrillers should be done like this, thrifty with its time. Why are we always subjected to long, drawn-out action flicks, with unnecessary car chases, fight sequences and other action accoutrement? Yes, these elements are fun if they are done well, but if you really want to keep the tension at the highest level, give it to us in a concentrated burst.
With Red-Eye, director Wes Craven turns in a tightly wound roller-coaster ride. Intellectually, you know it's improbable, but you can't help but raise your hands when the big drop comes.