Monday, January 23, 2006

keeping a Red Eye peeled

You know what? Red Eye (2005) is an awesome movie. For all the great movies there have been this last year, I haven't been as entertained by one as I have by this.

This isn't a movie review.... it's more of a movie appreciation entry. This movie isn't trying to be high film and it's not trying to pierce the awards circuit. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and executes it perfectly. It's a thriller (not a gory slasher movie), and there's some action movie elements in there, but it's all satisfying, all rewarding. I think the film's advertising and trailer sort of misled potential viewers (no, Cillian Murphy's eye does not turn red, he's just a normal guy), but don't be dissuaded! Clocking in at a lean 85 minutes or so, there's not a scene or line of dialogue wasted. Everything falls perfectly into place.

What this movie has going for it is a sense of grounding. For all the outlandishness and high-detail sidestepping involved in abetting the bad-guy's-evil-plan, it never goes over the top. I mean that: it never goes over the top. If this movie had fallen into the hands of different filmmakers, this could have easily turned into a cheeseball. Instead, it's a kind of unanticipated character study of Rachel McAdams' terrorized passenger. She's quick on her feet even before she's being threatened, and her resourcefulness and in-the-know charisma is believable and endearing. If you've done your reading you know that most of the film takes place on the airline, but even the on-the-ground finale is great fun.

The director, Wes Craven, is the "master of the suspense". He really is. The edge-of-your-seat scene entries are some of his best stuff. It's all timed with the musical score, of course, building up to the "stinger" (that's the term used for the jolt when killer comes around the corner, for example). I don't know how he does it, but it works everytime, be it in a thriller like Red Eye or in other incarnations of his horror films. Somehow when I see the same techniques employed in other non-Craven films, they come off as a bit transparent. For Red Eye though, his horror/thriller tropes are gleeful and fun to watch. I proudly hold a torch for all three of the Scream films, all directed by Craven and all highly entertaining slasher films, if not for their turning-the-genre-on-its-head power than for shear enjoyment. Also, let's not forget that this guy, tip-toeing out of horror country, directed the warming Meryl Streep up-fest Music of the Heart (1999).

Thinking about this movie made me ponder what ingredients actually make a good movie. The stuffy awards fare at the end of the year is too shamelessly predictable nowadays; that's not to say that there aren't good films, though. If Red Eye falls into the middlebrow blockbuster set, what makes this a great film and disappointing drek like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) the slime at the bottom of the barrel? What makes a good movie, anyway? Red Eye was one of my favorites of 2005, and Closer was one of my favorites of 2004, but the two are not exactly on par with each other.

I definitely have a soft-spot for the few "middlebrow blockbuster" movies that play with a different rulebook. They may be predictable of the genre one way or another (citing previous loves like Entrapment (1999) and Double Jeopardy (1999)), but somehow remain truthful to themselves. What does this mean, exactly? Well, Smith seems kind of sloppy, relying full-throttle on the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie sex sale, (the movie, which takes place in Connecticut/neo-New York City, has a car chase scene where a "Los Angeles City Limit" sign alongside the freeway is all-too visible). A movie like Red Eye or Double Jeopardy (no matter how outlandish) kind of sticks to the truth.... there are no superhuman feats or trashi-comic subplots. You kind of believe that these people would react this way as if they were actually in this situation. Ultimately, that's pretty much how the acting goes in all those films raking in the awards attention, right?

And now, an afternote: Rachel McAdams appears to have made a clean ascension into film acting, gaining consistently meaty roles for having not been visible two years ago. She's intensely likeable (and knock-out beautiful), and I like what I've seen her in. It's with a movie like Red Eye that an actor can build credibility; a lesser actor would have soured the performance to campy, pitiful screaming and all.


Long_Division said...

Can we talk about how Cillian Murphey is so good looking that he surpasses the good looking mark and enters into strange and almost ugly territory? I love that.

is that so wrong? said...

Yeah, the guy definitely enters into the realm of "ugly sexy".... a strange paradox. Those who think Mick Jagger is sexy (why?!) can understand. See also GoGo Yubari from Kill Bill: Volume 1.... so so hot, yet not all that attractive when you pay strict attention. It can't just be the schoolgirl uniform.

Any others who fall into this category?