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Director D.J. Caruso takes the next step forward towards being Hollywood’s newest blockbuster thriller director in Eagle Eye. He re-teams with star Shia LaBeouf, whom he found success with in Disturbia by borrowing generously from Rear Window. But Caruso doesn’t want to be Hitchcock, far from it. With Eagle Eye he’s making his play to become the next Michael Bay.
The movie casts the always engaging Shia LaBeouf as Jerry Shaw, a hapless nobody caught up in the cogs of domestic intrigue. He has just returned home to New York after his brother’s funeral, and stops at an ATM where he discovers his normally empty bank account now contains $750,000. As anyone would, he withdraws as much as he can fit in his pockets and heads home, wondering what the hell is going on. He arrives at his dinky apartment to find it too is no longer empty. It is now full, with all the chemicals and weaponry one might need to commit a major act of terrorism. His phone rings. A mysterious voice on the other end warns him he has only seconds to leave his apartment before the FBI arrives to arrest him. Jerry ignores the warning and in shock, remains rooted to the floor until moments later when the FBI’s foot soldiers come crashing through his window and drag him off to jail.
Jerry doesn’t stay in jail long, and soon the mysterious voice on the phone is directing him on an unknown mission of unknown intent. The caller controls not only his cell connection, but seemingly every other piece of technology on the planet. The voice pairs him up with a mother named Rachel, who is forced to cooperate lest the voice murder her son. That Jerry and Rachel are being used and manipulated is never in question; what is, is whether they’re being used for good or for evil. The movie holds together as long as that question remains hanging heavily in mid-air, even after we find out who it is that’s controlling them, via a potentially ludicrous but surprisingly well handled plot twist. It’s only in the third act that Eagle Eye starts to fall apart, when the battle lines are drawn and we’re told just exactly who we’re supposed to root for. The little anarchist inside me had more fun rooting for the other guy.
Though there is a passing attempt in the movie’s script to pose questions about the state of American politics, Eagle Eye is first and foremost a big, dumb, action thriller. It belongs smack dab in the middle of summer, why they’ve dropped it in September is something of a puzzler. Caruso jam packs his movie with big car crashes and things blowing up. He does a perfect imitation of a Michael Bay action flick, complete with his annoying, usually pointless, shaky cam technique which more often than not, spoils the effect of something really cool blowing up. Better filmmakers like Paul Greengrass know how to use violent camera motion to suck the audience into the action, make them feel as if they’re a part of what’s going on. Caruso lacks either the instincts or the subtlety to pull that off, and simply shakes things around for no other reason than to disorient his audience. It’s a minor annoyance really, most of the movie, what you can see of it, looks fantastic. More importantly, the action is well paced and, especially for the first two-thirds of the movie, thrilling. Cheap thrills is the real reason to be here, and Eagle Eye delivers.
The film’s supporting cast exists primarily to complement charismatic presence of Shia LaBeouf. Billy Bob Thornton is a scene stealer as a no-nonsense FBI agent. Aside from LaBeouf he’s the most interesting thing in the story, and really should have had a bigger role in what’s going on. Rosario Dawson is another government investigator, and this is the movie she turned down Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno to do. Her choice seemed to make sense at the time, after all this is a big-budget, Spielberg produced movie. Getting involved with a Spielberg project is a good thing, isn’t it? Seeing her in the movie now though, you have to wonder what she was thinking. She turned down a starring role in an edgy, heavily buzzed comedy to play what amounts to little more than a throwaway, stiff, empty, government agent part which almost no one will remember. Michelle Monaghan is similarly forgettable in this film. But then she always is. There’s nothing wrong with her, it’s just a blank, standard “girl in Hollywood thriller” character.
I keep coming back to that last third of the movie though, when things turn flat out silly. A lot of reviewers are going to blame the twist, but I think the film survives it’s potentially silly twist admirably. The problem comes as the movie tries to deal with the consequences of that twist, and slowly begins to lose its way. It’s also not helped by the Eagle Eye’s ending, which suffers from a bad case of War of the Worlds syndrome. Maybe it’s because the movie is produced by Steven Spielberg. Those last five minutes definitely have his fingerprints all over them. Spielberg’s an amazing filmmaker, but if you’ve seen his War of the Worlds then you know what happens when he lets his soft and cuddly nature get the best of him.
Eagle Eye has its flaws, but you’re not going to care or notice them. It’s a big, loud, explosive summer thriller which has somehow been stranded in September’s cinematic gutter. It sets out to be fun, empty escapism and succeeds at it.