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Murphy, McAdams take flight in ‘Red Eye’

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, August 31, 2005

“Red Eye” is a tight, effective little thriller that coasts on the charisma of its two leads, Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams. Director Wes Craven is no stranger to the genre, as his credits include “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream.” By contrast, “Red Eye” is far more subdued than either of those films, as it unravels its relatively straightforward plot in a brief, busy 85 minutes.

Watching “Red Eye” is like listening to a song stripped down to its melody. Audiences have come to expect labyrinth plots and roller-coaster plot-twists from thrillers, so the fact that the film has neither is surprisingly refreshing.

Once the central conceit of the film has been established, it stays for the course for the majority of the film. This is ultimately a wise decision as the addition of plot devices would have bloated the running time and prevented “Red Eye” from being the doggedly economical film its director intended.

Lisa Reisart (Rachel McAdams) and Jackson Ripner (Cillian Murphy) meet in an airport, share a drink, then end up sitting next to each other on their Fresh Air flight from Dallas to Miami. From the moment the plane leaves the ground, the plot kicks into gear and doesn’t let up for the next hour. Revealing too much of the plot gives away the film’s precious few surprises, suffice to say that Ripner is not all that he seems and his proximity to Reisart is far more than coincidental. The scope of the film is not quite as vast as one might expect, but the small-scale actually benefits the film, as it is able to concentrate on the tense conflict between the two lead characters. Using a plane as setting is effective, as it essentially traps Reisart and keeps her essentially at the mercy of her proverbial captor.

What is most surprising is that neither Rachel McAdams nor Cillian Murphy bring anything less than believability to outlandish plot. Murphy, who also played The Scarecrow in “Batman Begins” this summer, is quite good as Jackson. There are strains of Anthony Perkins’ “Psycho” in his simultaneous evocation of boyish charm and seething psychopathic tendencies, though he gives his character a welcome amount of depth. Murphy is a chameleon-like actor who morphs into a variety of roles.

McAdams is the glue that holds the whole enterprise together, proving her range and effectiveness as an actress. As Lisa Reisart, her inherit goodness is what separates her from Murphy’s Jackson and gives focus to the plot. It’s hard to believe she played Regina George, the eponymous Mean Girl, a year prior.

The cinema must be taken on its own terms, and when reviewing “Red Eye” in that context, it fulfills its function very nicely. Wes Craven has made better films, but he rarely gets actors as talented and charismatic as Murphy and McAdams and he takes full advantage of that strength.

It’s no masterpiece, but it’s well-wound and enjoyable to watch, which is more than can be said of many films far more ambitious than “Red Eye.”