Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Film Review - Red Eye

Director Wes Craven, the unanimous ‘master of ceremonies’ for many within the horror genre, started his filmmaking career back in 1971 with the drama Together, dubbed in German and a rare find in the current film market. This is not the sort of hollowed beginning one would expect from the man who would go on to be credited for creating one of the most terrifying movie monsters of all time, Freddy Krueger, and for revitalizing the horror genre itself with his now venerable Scream franchise. Critically and publicly acclaimed work in The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing, and The Nightmare on Elm Street are the types of films which have made him infamous throughout Hollywood. However, for reasons which may never be explained – perhaps out of personal interest, who knows, he has chosen to shift his directing skills away from the slasher flicks which have made him essentially a household name and more toward ordinary dramas. But this is Wes Craven after all. Is anything he has done ever ordinary, let alone normal?

The story for Red Eye is easily discernible, nothing startling enigmatic about it, but director Wes Craven, infamous for breaking with the conventional, takes the concept of aeronautical hostage taking to a whole sinister new level. At first glance the premise is not that entirely incalculable – terrorist henchman takes woman hostage and threatens to kill a loved one unless she cooperates in helping him commit an assassination of a US governmental official, she escapes, and he gives chase. Clear enough, right? As the film progresses, however, it intricately evolves into an impertinent, sophisticated thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. What Steven Spielberg did for sharks and the beach with Jaws Wes Craven and Red Eye will do for airplanes, hands down. There are undoubtedly fears that this film will inadvertently cause people to conjure up harrowing memories of the September 11th hijackings but rest assured that the premise deals secularly with one woman and not the idea of using an airliner for the purposes of committing an act of terrorism. Nonetheless, the concept of a hostage being taken, to the awareness of everyone else on board or not, remains apprehensible. It is far more foreseeable that an individual who has been the victim of a carjacking will be shaken by Red Eye, in which case it would be advisable that such individuals be prepared when viewing this film.

Rachael McAdams is a far cry from what one would characterize as a damsel in distress. Beyond the distinguishable observations that she is indeed a woman trapped within a horrendous situation, essentially caught between a rock and a hard place to be quite frank, McAdam’s character breaks with the conventions of a typical Hollywood heroine at around the half-way point in the picture. For the first half of the film it would appear as though she has done everything within her power to draw attention to herself while on the plane so as to be rescued from the clutches of Jackson. Proprietary thinking on the theatrical feminine cliché would lead you to assume that she would simply give up, but instead she takes action and fights back. This clear cut break from the conventional role of women in thrillers is a welcome change, although this has been evident in Hollywood for at least the past decade. Not that the ‘damsel in distress’ cliché is not without its charms; it is just a relief to see a change in pace for once.

Cillian Murphy, known earlier this summer by audiences for his supporting villain role in Christopher Nolan’s smash hit, Batman Begins, evidently has a knack for playing intimidating and deranged individuals onscreen. Murphy’s quite demeanor and absorbing personality just within the first few scenes audiences encounter with him make his character trusting and endearing to us. As the atmosphere shifts slowly toward that of the dark side, Jackson puts all his cards on the table and the transformation all the more shocking to us, though to be quite honest this should not have come as a surprise in the least. This is truly a credit to Murphy’s brilliantly stark performance. The single tragic flaw evident in his character however is at time, specifically near the end of the movie, he comes off as though he is the ‘Energizer Bunny’ of crazed assassins. Rachael McAdams stabs him in the throat with a pen, which he proceeds in due time to pull out of his throat and simply ties a scarf around the wound, has numerous items thrown at him, falls down a flight of stairs, is stabbed with a high-heel shoe, and yet he keeps on coming. After awhile it gets a little tiresome. Luckily daddy steps in and puts a few bullets in him to end his little tirade.

Overall, underneath Red Eye’s intelligible and rather conspicuous exterior boils a penetrating, emotional suspense drama that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats till the very end. There is quite a bit to enjoy about Wes Craven’s intricate psychological thriller, yet adversely there are certain aspects within the context of the film that help bring the quality of the picture down a notch or two. There is this continuous discussion of terrorists and assassinations and yet there remains so little known about the main motivating force behind all of this. Who are these terrorists? What reason do they have to assassinate the director of Homeland Security other then to show off to the world that they can knock a governmental official who can just as easily be replaced? Presumptively these components were left unanswered by Craven in order to maintain the complexity of the script but they remain nagging questions that deserve at least an explanation. And the other negative connotation this film possesses is the build up of clichés which reaches a breaking point in the storyline just as the picture is in the final stretch to its conclusion. The inclusion of the ‘low-battery signal on the cell phone just when the hero has evaded her pursuer’ trick will likely be the most noticeable and irritating cliché for audiences to swallow, but given that this is Wes Craven we are talking about here it should not honestly come as too much of a surprise. With that said though, Red Eye remains a smart, sophisticated thriller on such a level which has not been seen by movie audiences since the bygone days of Alfred Hitchcock. As limited a storyline and as confined as its environmental space is, Red Eye surpasses in intensity within the course of a mere few minutes what it takes a big-budget, marquee star picture an entire hour to do.

My Rating: **** out of 5 (Grade: B+)