Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The New Yorker finds Red Eye short sighted

As I desperately tried to play catch up this weekend with all the movies that I feel compelled to go see, I managed to catch a matinee of Red Eye, Wes Craven's new picture.

An atypical foray for Craven, who gained noteriety from his Horror films, Redeye is a straight Thriller. Redeye tells the story of Lisa (Rachel McAdams), who is held hostage on a plane and blackmailed by a mercenary hit man, Jackson (Cillian Murphey). Jackson wants Lisa to use her managerial clout at the hotel where she works to change the room where the department of homeland security will be staying. But by changing the room, she will be aiding the assasinationf of the political figure and his entire family, in a what appears to be an act by terrorists trying to make a vague statement. However, if Lisa refuses to make the call from the plane, Jackson will make a call of his own, and have her father killed.

Redeye felt like that cable TV movie that you get sucked into while flipping the channels. You end up watching the entire thing, but then it never crosses your mind again, and it floats away into the oblivion of consumed media. The base of this story had some very compelling elements, but the execution was pretty ho hum. For me, the best part of the film was the first twenty five minutes or so. During this time, we are introduced to the protagonist, Lisa Reisert, a young woman who is all business, and can not even leave her cell phone off after attenteding her grandmother's funeral. Early on, the film takes the time to develop her character with a combination of obvious cues and subtle hints, which I appreciated. (My biggest complaint about a lot of movies these days is that they don't take the time to do that.) We see that Lisa is close to her father, who is constantly worried about her, and gives her self help books. We watch her go into business mode as she coaches a co-worker over the phone, walking her through how to calm some angry but important customers. When we watch her meet Cillian Murphey's character, Jackson, we pick up on her shyness and hesitance to open herself up. But McAdams was able to also convey that underneath all that there was a part of herself that did want to make herself vulnerable. Cillian Murphey comes across as incredibly charming and personable, as he is meant to. He has a really unique sort of look about him, unconventionally attractive --with striking eyes and a disarming smile. I liked the little scene with them in the airport bar where they run into each other for the second time; they played well off each other and had good chemistry.

{On a brief aside, I thought the original teaser for this movie was brillant because they made it seem like it was going to be a romantic comedy, and then they turned it on its head and made it a thriller.}

The audience of course knows that Jackson is up to no good, but it is suspenseful to watch Lisa flirt with him and let down her walls a bit, with the last person she should be trusting in the entire airport. The ante is only upped when we see that they are sitting next to each other on a plane. But for me, shortly after they sit down, once the plane has taken off, just when things should be suddenly taking off with momentum and tension, they began to fall apart. There are a couple moments between Jackson and Lisa that are supposed to show some awkwardness between these two characters, but really the moments just come off as awkwardly played. Just after Lisa sits down, Jackson asks her with a deadpan face if she is stalking him --and she actually falls for it --getting nervous, and insisting denials. Yet this situation seems so clean cut, that anyone short of an idiot, would know he was being sarcastic, and would play along, with either a retalitatory wry quip, or pretending to affirm his suspicions.

There is also a scene where Jackson is trying to distract Lisa from the turbulent take off, as she hates flying. His lines should come out friendly and conversational, but instead they feel forced, awkward, and annoying. I’m not sure if this was a misstep in the direction at this moment, or a flaw in the dialogue, or maybe a bit of both, either way, the tension they had built up between these two people who seemed to like each other, but were fated to be at odds, was dissipated.

I wasn’t a big fan of the way that Jackson revealed his ulterior motives to Lisa. It felt kind of clunky and abrupt. One minute he was talking to her about her father, trying to calm her nerves through the plane’s bumpy ascent. The next, he was coming clean about the fact that he had a hit man stationed outside her father’s house who would kill her father on command. I think the first line of Jackson’s that really clues Lisa in to the fact that something is awry, is something like “That is my job. Trying to keep the focus on your father.” I’m not sure how I would have phrased it necessarily, if I had written the screenplay, but I’m pretty sure I would have done it differently. I think it might have been more tense, if first Jackson revealed that he was just trying to get her to call her hotel to make some changes in the arrangements for the dept. head of homeland security, and then after she naturally refused, he could throw the fact that he could hurt her father at any given moment in her face. I think I just wanted a sexier transition for Jackson as he went from charming suitor to psychotic criminal.

Once Jackson does reveal his true intentions, the story flattens out a bit. The entire second act of the movie is all about Lisa trying to resist making the call, and unsucessfully trying to draw someone’s attention to what Jackson is doing to her. Lisa tries to fake the phone call to the hotel, he realizes this and head butts her. She goes to the bathroom to leave a message for a flight attendent on the mirror, he discovered and roughed her up a bit. These mini set pieces are ok, but it seems like more could have been done to fill the audience with tension. Craven and writer Carl Ellsworth, insert these clever little foils for Jackson, but then never makes much use of them. There is the old lady who Lisa passed on her self help book to, and now wishes to discuss with her. The little girl travelling by herself who senses Lisa’s distress has sinister origins. The pair of teenage boys, who vacillate between being loud and obnoxious and dozing off to sleep. They are all interesting characters who could have been integrated into the plot more, but were relegated to the most minor of importance.

Eventually of course, Lisa is forced to make the call, and Jackson tells her that only when the plane lands will he verify her father’s safety. As the plane draws nearer to its arrival, and the sun rises, we learn an interesting detail about Lisa, some more background to her character and motivations. She had been attacked and raped about a year before. She looks deep into Jackson’s eyes, and tells him she swore then, she would never let anything like that happen to her again. And then she stabs him in the windpipe with a pen. The tension in the film picks up again here, and there is a neat sequence after Lisa stabs Jackson, where he staggers to the bathroom and she desperately tries to get out of the plane. Lisa is in a panic to call the hotel in time to alert them to the danger that the head of homeland security faces. The film ends with Lisa battling it out at her father’s house with Jackson who has followed her to get his revenge. As he wheezes up and down the stairs chasing her, she pelts vases and furniture at him. Lisa’s father shoots Jackson in the end, the head of homeland security gets out with his family on time to avoid the terrorist missle launcher aimed at his suite, and everyone appears to live happily ever after!

For me one of the odd things about this movie, was the problems it had establishing its tone. Was it a dark portrait of life post 9-11, where flying was no longer innocuous, and terrorists were lurking in every corner plotting to make another political statement through violence? Or is it a benign by the numbers thriller, where the bad guy gets his and all is right again in the world, once he is defeated?

Considering the plot of Redeye, I think it is impossible to ignore that the fact that the film reflected some of the fears generated from 9/11. Not only is Lisa literally afraid of flying, but our ultimate fear is realized in her experience with Jackson. Someone who appears to be just another casual passenger, is actually a cold blooded killer. Then of course there is the other piece of the plot which deals with a terrorist assasination of the head of homeland security.

But so what? Redeye was one of those movies which grazes political issues without actually dealing with any of them head on. Who was Cillian Murphey’s character, Jackson, anyways? Some vague rougish figure who was contracted out by some unknown terrorist cell? The movie did a slapdash job of trying to create a direct link between the homeland security department policies and the reason why the head was specifically a target. There was a brief moment where we see a clip of the head on TV, talking very generally about “cracking down” on terrorism. Perhaps this is an allusion to the fact that terrorism strikes out at random, that there is never a real connection to anything a figure of country has done, just senseless acts of violence. While terrorism is certainly characteristic of senseless violence, and unjustifiable, it is also usually in response to a very specific set of political policies or goals of the target nation. The thing that annoyed me about this movie, was that it chose a topic which was so linked to our current day fears, yet refused to explore it below surface level. Ok, so they didn’t want it to become some politically driven heavy handed hoo ha. Fine. But how can you make a movie about terrorism in this day and age that doesn't really deal with the relevance or meaning that it has in our society right now? What about simply using the anxiety that arose from 9/11 to create a deeper sense of tension and fear in the film, particularly in the scenes with Lisa and Jackson on the plane? Developing the idea of feeling vulnerable in a place(planes) that used to be thought of generally as safe? Paranoia about strangers, doubting who to trust?

Redeye was ok ---it was fine. I was fairly engaged throughout the duration of the film. But because it lacked much depth or meaning, it falls into the catagory of a rental for me, and it is certainly not the cleverest or skillful movie Craven has ever done. Come on WC, show me the horror!


Blogger The Moviequill said...

I have read a lot of press and reviews on this film, but yours was the best easy to read take on it, thanks

5:59 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Aw shucks....thanks :)

8:53 AM  

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