Clocking in around 75 minutes minus credits, Red Eye is a lean thriller, not bogged down by scores of subplots or a bloated cast. Like thrillers such as Lifeboat and Phone Booth before it, Red Eye uses its claustrophobic setting to build suspense, with the majority of the movie set on a pair of seats on a cramped plane. Director Wes Craven maintains a great deal of tension throughout the film despite -- or perhaps even because of -- those limitations. He's confident enough with the story and its characters that he doesn't feel obligated to distract the audience with unnecessary visual gimmicks like skip-bleach processing or hyperkinetic MTV quick-cutting.
It's because of the characters that the movie works as well as it does...or, more accurately, the casting; without these specific actors in the lead, Red Eye would probably seem more like a USA Original Movie than a feature film. Rachel McAdams infuses Lisa Reisert with a sort of immediately likeable charm while keeping her strong and confident throughout. There's some of 'the final girl' in her: that last surviving character in a slasher movie who summons the strength to finish off her attacker, but whereas those are usually weaker characters who are gradually steeled by torture and manipulation, previous tragedies have already brought Lisa to that point. A lot of thrillers require their lead characters to make profoundly stupid mistakes to keep the plot moving, but Red Eye's not like that, and the fact that Lisa's smart, strong, but still vulnerable makes her much more compelling. It helps to have someone like Rachel McAdams in the role, too; she's achingly beautiful but has the talent to match.
Cillian Murphy is every bit as perfect a fit in his role, pulling off the transition from charming to chilling effortlessly. He has such a captivating presence on-screen, from his convincing chemistry with McAdams to his startling blue eyes. Again, unlike the traditional thriller villain, Murphy's Jack Rippner isn't a cackling, moustache-twirling madman who can shrug off superhuman amounts of abuse; this is just a job for him...one he's good at but not one he altogether enjoys, evoking a sense of desperation as Lisa continually resists and even a sort of quiet longing for the woman he's menacing. Again, it's a flawless performance and really elevates the movie.
As lean and stripped down as so much of Red Eye is, its later moments take a poorly conceived turn in a drastically different direction, switching away from a claustrophobic thriller and lumbering more heavily towards an eye-rollingly over-the-top action flick. I'll say it involves a rocket launcher and leave it at that. Despite the unevenness of its last twenty minutes that alternate between clumsy action setpieces seemingly spliced in from a completely different movie and some standard thriller chases, Red Eye still manages to eke out some effective, tense moments. Red Eye plays with the audience's expectations during its climactic cat-and-mouse pursuits and resists falling into some of the usual genre traps.
Red Eye as a film seems content with a base hit instead of swinging for a home run. It's disposable entertainment -- the type of movie that's watched, enjoyed, and quickly forgotten -- but this decent thriller is elevated by two outstanding lead performances. Flawed but thrilling, Red Eye comes highly recommended as a rental and recommended as a purchase.
Video: Red Eye is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it's anamorphic in the traditional sense as well, shot with anamorphic lenses rather than using the ubiquitous Super 35 process. The presentation is flawless: immaculately detailed, razor-sharp, and sporting deep, inky blacks. Even among other new releases, Red Eye impressed me more than any DVD I've watched in the past couple of months. Simply stunning.
A separate full-screen version is available, but because of the way Red Eye was shot, expect it to be severely cropped.
Audio: Red Eye relies more heavily on dialogue than many thrillers, and aside from the roar of the score by Marco Beltrami (Hellboy, I, Robot), its Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kbps) soundtrack doesn't have quite the same roaring bombast that other genre entries boast. The clarity's sparkling, of course, and the ambient sounds of a bustling airport and a plane rattled by turbulence keep the surrounds chattering with activity. It's not the sort of soundtrack that cries out to be yanked off the shelf to show off a home theater rig, but it suits the material perfectly.
An English stereo track and a French 5.1 dub have also been provided. The DVD is closed captioned and features subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Supplements: Red Eye has a small but quality assortment of extras, beginning with an audio commentary with director Wes Craven, producer Marianne Maddalena, and editor Patrick Lussier. They don't really delve much into the nuts and bolts of the making of the movie -- that's covered elsewhere on the DVD -- preferring instead to talk about the psychology of its characters and the methodology behind the photography. It's interesting having an editor on-board, and Lussier gives a sense of how a movie is really defined in post-production. Some of my favorite notes include how quickly the project came together (less than six months from Craven agreeing to shoot the movie to having a director's cut assembled; the first edit of the movie was put together in four days) and how the best moments of the ending were added after principal photography had wrapped. It's a solid commentary and worth a listen.
There are also two featurettes, each running eleven minutes or so in length. "Wes Craven: A New Kind of Thriller" alternates between extremely brief comments from the talent both in front of and behind the camera of Red Eye and short snippets from the film. I didn't care for that editing style, and the Mutual Admiration Society backpatting gets a little stale, deserved or not, but Craven's comments about casting and the like leave it more insightful than the usual promotional featurette. "The Making of Red Eye" has a similar structure, so much so that I'm really not sure why these weren't edited together to make one longer featurette. While Wes Craven did the lion's share of the speaking in the other clip, the making-of gives the cast and crew more of a chance to talk about the initial concept, the set and production design, shooting on such a cramped set, and filming some of the movie's most memorable scenes. It's much better than average and precisely what a making-of featurette ought to be.
Rounding out the extras is a six and a half minute gag reel that collects the usual flubbed lines and spontaneous bursts of laughter that probably mean more to the people who worked on the movie than anyone watching this at home. Craven mentions that around four minutes of footage were reinserted into the movie for the TV version since the theatrical cut was so short -- somewhat disappointingly, none of that's provided on this DVD.
Plugs for a few other Dreamworks/Universal releases are also tacked on. The DVD includes a set of 16x9 animated menus, and the movie has been divided into sixteen chapter stops. At least with the review copy I have on-hand, no insert has been provided.
Conclusion: Let yourself be carried away by Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy's compelling lead performances without nitpicking over the details of the plot and you'll probably come away with a reasonably positive take on Red Eye. It's not a great movie, but it's a better-than-average popcorn thriller. Decent flick, slick looking DVD, nice batch of extras. Recommended.