Red Eye (review)

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Strangers on a Plane

You see it all the time in the movies: someone meets an attractive stranger at the airport check-in, at the bar near the gate, or in the seat next to you on the plane. It never happens in real life, of course — the people you see when you travel are inevitably middle-aged couples in matching track suits, surly teenagers who never take their headphones off, or weird serial-killer types who bring their own smelly snacks.
And now Red Eye will make you never want to experience the fantasy version. Poor Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers) runs into Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Cold Mountain) not only at the check-in counter but also at the bar and finds herself sitting next to him on a red-eye flight from Dallas to Miami. And he’s a little bit creepy but also a little bit hot, and she’s a little bit flattered and a little bit weirded out that he seems interested in her (though she can hardly be surprised, she’s so bursting with that kind of down-to-earth gorgeousness that makes you want to just be around her on the off chance that maybe you might absorb a smidgen of it yourself). And then it turns out she was right to be weirded out, cuz he’s — *sigh* — a serial-killer type… or, well, a hired-killer type.

Horror maven Wes Craven (the Scream trilogy) has found all-new ways to spook us, and he’s on his game in a way that he hasn’t been in ages… and he doesn’t even have to resort to anything supernatural this time. It’s four years now since 9/11, and it might as well be four days, because even though Red Eye has nothing to do with terrorism — at least, not in any direct way — the locale of an airplane cabin has become a place of potential horror, and Craven and first-time screenwriter Carl Ellsworth milk it for all it’s worth. All the very routine actions of boarding a plane and preparing for flight are suddenly laden with all manner of suspense, just the simple stuff of stowing your bags in the overhead, of listening to the bangs and creaks of a plane taxing down the runway, of being trapped in a window seat with a stranger between you and the aisle… It’s all weighted down with dread, like that awful feeling you get just as the plane takes off, that you just know this ain’t gonna be no uneventful flight, that you’re going down, down this time…

And we’re right, of course, not that the plane is going down but that this won’t just be peanuts before the in-flight movie and then maybe a nap before landing, cuz this is a thriller and something bad has gotta happen. It’s better not to know too much about what transpires, but it’s safe to say that Murphy’s Jackson Rippner needs McAdams’s Lisa Reisert to do something only she can do, an order she can give via the airphone to someone on the ground, and if she doesn’t do it, friends of Jackson will kill her dad (Brian Cox: The Bourne Supremacy, Troy). (More shades of 9/11, with those desperate phone calls from the plane.) And as implausible as it may seem, that a man could basically hold a woman hostage on an airplane without anyone else knowing what’s going on, Red Eye is thoroughly enthralling and completely rip-rousing — it’s not too often that a movie makes me actually hold my breath waiting for the perilous moments to resolve themselves, but this one did, and it’s not too often that a movie makes me want to cheer out loud when someone bad gets what he or she (okay: he) deserves, but this one did.

But none of that is too surprising, actually, when you consider that — as I’ve noted many times before — when ya throw really good actors at even B-movie material (which isn’t to suggest that this isn’t very accomplished B-movie material), ya end up with a class act. Murphy and McAdams are two of the finest and most charismatic new actors working today, which is exactly what you need for what is, in essence, a two-person psychological drama. Craven shoves his camera right up into Murphy’s and McAdams’s faces in the confined space of two airline coach seats, lending the film an intensely claustrophobic atmosphere. But it’s Murphy’s and McAdams’s integrity and dedication to the subtle art of acting with a camera right in your face that makes their journey so powerful.

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