If constructing a thriller could be likened to building a house, then Wes Craven's Red Eye is a perfect piece of architecture: It's clean-lined and soundly structured, without a foot of wasted space or any materials left unused. The opening credits alone are a marvel of narrative economy, packed with so much information between every cut that virtually all the exposition is out of the way before Craven's name even appears. Much like last summer's underrated Cellular, Red Eye functions best as a streamlined thrill machine, generic in many respects but shot through with an unrelenting sense of purpose. Still, a beautiful blueprint doesn't ensure that anything will be inside the house, and it's a keen disappointment to discover that Craven and screenwriter Carl Ellsworth have nothing more to offer than pure momentum.
Before this express train to nowhere arrives, Red Eye delivers a terrific villain in Cillian Murphy, whose opaque blue eyes and cool, mirthless line-readings give him a peculiar, dangerous charisma that's exploited even more effectively here than it was in Batman Begins. Like a former Eagle Scout hiding bodies under the floorboards, Murphy presents himself as a perfect gentleman, unfailingly honest with every word that escapes his lips, even when those words curl toward a diabolical agenda. Working as an agent for a terrorist organization, Murphy targets Rachel McAdams, a manager for a swank Miami hotel that's due to host an outspoken higher-up for the Department Of Homeland Security. In order to coerce McAdams into having this important guest and his family moved to another room, Murphy joins her on a plane and blackmails her by positioning an assassin outside the house of her father, Brian Cox.
For most of the flight, Murphy and McAdams play a tense cat-and-mouse game: Murphy is only demanding McAdams make a simple phone call, but she keeps looking for ways to wriggle off the hook, which isn't easy when she's squeezed into a window seat. And with every new wrinkle in his plan, Murphy's controlled demeanor cracks just a little bit more, until his toothy grin can no longer mask the rage bubbling behind it. But once the film lands on solid ground, it hits shaky ground, because Craven and Ellsworth haven't imagined any sort of larger plot than the one they initially offer up. Maybe Craven has grown tired of twists after the Scream trilogy, but in Red Eye, there's no hidden agenda at work, and no surprise lurking behind Door Number Three; even the terrorists have no discernable values that guide their actions. Here's a rare thriller where everything is exactly as it seems.