In the very first scene, one where nothing important happens, we already know we’re watching a thriller. If you never saw the trailer or poster for Red Eye, this scene would help you. The score is what tips us off; it’s fast-paced, frantic, and it wants you to feel that way. It attempts to get your heart racing before we’ve even met a single character. It’s not exactly successful — I know I was laughing at its audacity — but it can help some people out if they need that extra prompt.
There are three distinct sections to Red Eye. The first takes place in an airport and before the titular red-eye flight to Miami takes off. The second is on the flight, where we learn about whose life is on the line and why. The final is after the airplane lands, which, funnily enough, is when the film really takes off. It allows director Wes Craven to remove the constraints that come from filming in a crowed airplane, where he can finally have some creativity. That’s not to say that earlier parts aren’t still fun, but in the final third, things really get going.
Our protagonist is Lisa (Rachel McAdams), a hotel manager who has dedicated her life to running the hotel. She’s become a recluse, pretty much, although she’s liked by all of her customers and staff members. She’s about to fly back to Miami, where her hotel is, after being out of town to attend her grandmother’s funeral. At the airport, she runs into a charming man named Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), who buys her a drink and they talk for a while. They bid adieu, although we know they’ll be seated very close on the airplane.
That’s exactly what happens, although once the plane reaches cruising altitude, Jackson’s plan is revealed: He’s going to threaten Lisa’s father (Brian Cox), saying that if Lisa doesn’t do exactly what he wants, he’ll call a man who will kill her dad. He wants her to call her hotel, move a guest to a different room, and … that’s it. That’s all she has to do, and her father will live without any knowledge that his life was on the line. Why she even hesitates is beyond me.
She eventually realizes that Jackson is moving this guest so that the guest and his entire family will be killed. See, Jackson is another “manager,” ensuring that people who want other people dead will be killed in some fashion or another. This is his plan, and the rest of the film deals with Lisa trying to outsmart him and make sure that her guest doesn’t die, as well as ensuring that her father lives. Her life comes into question later on as well. And this, dear audience, is why this movie is a thriller.
At least we can say that Red Eye doesn’t rely heavily on special effects or unbelievable scenes. Everything in this film could conceivably happen, which is almost always a plus. We can believe every scene in this movie because nothing feels terribly unrealistic. When something happens, it feels kind of visceral because it could happen in real life. Our suspension of disbelief is stretched later on, but for the most part, we can believe everything that happens within the movie.
There is enough humor within the film to keep us laughing throughout what could be dull moments. The final few lines will stick with me for a few days because they had me laughing quite a bit. They also show a bit of character development that I thought was missing through most of the film, but ended up being included. While most of Red Eye involves a battle of wits between Lisa and Jackson, the two characters actually do develop a tad bit as well, which is always nice to see.
However, since most of it involved Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy going at one another — mostly in a battle of words — you need the actors to have good chemistry. Thankfully, they do, and you can believe all of the scenes that they’re involved in. There’s one scene in a bathroom cubicle that is both hilarious and terrifying, and the two actors sell it so well. There are a few other scenes that work only because the two leads have such good chemistry.
Red Eye might not have worked if it had a director who wanted to make a longer movie. The movie only lasts 85 minutes, and that’s the perfect amount of time for this type of thing. It ensures that very little amount of time is wasted, and that the thrills are constant and unrelenting. Once we get on the aircraft, we’re stuck on it like Lisa is, and the thrills are definitely there. Murphy makes for a very menacing victim, and McAdams is perfect as the reluctant hero and woman in peril. Brian Cox is underused as Lisa’s father, and it would have been nice to include him in a role that wasn’t just as a could-be victim.
Red Eye is a very entertaining film that thankfully understands that it doesn’t need to be two hours long to still be entertaining. It has two lead actors with great chemistry, a very sharp pacing which makes sure that we are never bored, enough laughs to keep the mood light despite what’s happening throughout, and is just pretty fun overall. It’s silly, and it doesn’t always make complete sense, but it’s very enjoyable and is absolutely worth the 85 minutes it takes to play.