Movie Review – Eagle Eye (2008)
Many moons ago when I was in high school my friends and I regularly went to the movies and in some years that was as often as once every week. Now that I am older and beholden to more aspects of my life I have come to the conclusion that while going to the movies is still the only and correct way to view them that thankfully Blu-ray and DVD have saved me from wasting my time on too much drivel. This is not a rant on the current state of Hollywood as I have always surmised that most movies were not of “Citizen Kane” caliber but merely there is no reason to haul myself out of my house just to watch what’s new in the local cinema just for the sake of it.
“Real” movie critics might turn their nose at this but they all get to see these films for free anyhow and I doubt most of them would part with their hard earned dollars to see movies that seemed suspect or didn’t meet their taste.
This brings us to Eagle Eye, the newest vehicle for rising young star Shia LaBeouf. Directed by DJ Caruso, who previously helmed Shia in Disturbia and originally conceived by Steven Spielberg himself the movie has, on the surface, assembled an intriguing set of personalities and talent.
The premise is initially quite promising albeit beholden like Disturbia to Hitchcock films of old. LaBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, a rather down on his luck worker at Cabana copy, a store much like Kinkos, who constantly finds himself barely making enough income to survive. Indeed, he needs to sneak into his apartment to constantly avoid paying the landlady his monthly rent. For his entire life, Jerry has lived under his twin brother’s gargantuan shadow of success. Whenever his brother excelled at everything in life, Jerry went the opposite direction by constantly failing and underachieving.
That is, until one day he comes back into his apartment and finds stacks upon stacks of state of the art military equipment replete with tons of fertilizer that could easily be turned into homemade bombs. Astounded, he soon receives a call from a woman who deadpans in a montone voice to him to leave the apartment in 30 seconds as the FBI is on its way. Jerry, obviously in a state of panic, doesn’t believe what he is being told and after 30 seconds pass the FBI does appear forcing their way into the apartment , apprehending him and taking him in for interrogation whereby he is interviewed by Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thorton) who obviously disbelieves Jerry’s innocent rants.
Just when things are looking grim, Jerry is given the opportunity to make a single telephone call but instead the same deadpan monotone female voice chimes in to chastise him for not following orders. It tells him never to disobey and goads him to escape and jump out the window. Seeing as he’s in a multi story building he hesitates but a huge construction crane comes crashing in giving Jerry the opportunity to jump down to a nearby subway station and make his escape. By now audiences are probably glued to the screen trying to guess the identity of said female voice on the phone and to the filmmaker’s credit, this section of the movie is well orchestrated.
Jerry finds himself joined by another innocent citizen named Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) who is also being manipulated by the disemboweled female voice. The duo quickly realize that there is no way they can avoid their controller since whoever it is seems to be able to manipulate electronic devices at will. Not just traffic cameras but anything remotely connected to the web like cell phones, construction vehicles and automobiles become tools that this commanding voice can utilize to control the environment around them.
In this sense, Eagle Eye is the ultimate conspiracy theorist movie. It posits a future setting where Big Brother is in complete control of every citizen. You can’t even take a piss without being paranoid that someone or something is tracking your every move. The film builds on this inherent paranoia and fear of control and for a while the audience is more than content to get sucked into the narrative. It is hard not to get wrapped up in the plight of two innocent people being forced to partake in something against their free will. That is, until things go completely off the dead end of reality.
Originally conceived as a science fiction genre film by Steven Spielberg, the film makes the rather hugely erroneous decision to set this movie firmly within our own time. This is not America in the year 3000 as the events that occur and the space it occupies is firmly rooted in the here and now. As such, when the film’s true science fiction origins begin to emerge the audience is going to be floored but not in a good sense.
While one can accept elements such as a hacker gaining control of a network CCTV system of security and traffic cameras much like London, England currently employs it is way beyond the point of belief to accept that someone can take jurisdiction over things like high tension power wires or compel the ejection seat of a flying F-16 fighter jet to suddenly activate. Something like this would require every single piece of electronic equipment to be linked together so that the hacker would be able to gain access to their control mechanisms.
As the film progresses the disemboweled female voice goads our heroic duo on with blatantly absurd displays of power that have no inherent logic. The scene with the high tension wires is a prime example. Jerry and Rachel find themselves on a deserted road during one of the film’s quieter moments when suddenly a van pulls up. The driver exclaims to both that he has done his job like he was instructed and is turning over the van to them but that he refuses to help. In doing so he begins to run away back the way he came to which the female voice phones Jerry and orders him to stop the driver. When he can’t the overhead power wires suddenly come loose and fall to the ground right on top of the running driver turning him instantly to a ball of fiery ash.
These preposterous sequences keep coming and it becomes grating to one’s logic just how any of this could be remotely possible. Which is why the film’s big reveal, that I will not give away, is plain hackneyed and plays like a vain attempt to link and shoehorn all these supposedly impossible means of control into an explanation that makes sense. The problem is, this magical elucidation really does belong in the realm of fairy tales and science fiction but it’s so ham-fisted and intrusive that it stretches the realm of believability.
This final reveal of the main antagonist will make cinephiles groan as it incorporates numerous elements from other, more successful genre, movies. In fact, Eagle Eye, is like a giant patchwork imitation of greater movies that it borders on abject parody. When this big reveal occurs it opens up a giant can of worms that drive the film further into chaos and the villain’s plan becomes wholly too unwieldy and obtuse. Are we to believe that these two regular citizens actually have the wherewithal to avoid capture by the authorities without any prior military training?
Also, a note to all current and future set designers – without revealing any spoilers one has to take issue at Hollywood’s ridiculous penchant to sex things up when reality seems too dull by comparison. If the script calls for, let’s say a futuristic car (no there’s not any in the movie it’s just an example), there’s nothing wrong going minimalist and basing it on current designs. There’s no need to go overboard to add flashing neon lights, chrome, huge exhaust pipes, a second floor above the driver or an added pool in the back. Those who’ve seen Eagle Eye will undoubtedly know what I an alluding to in regards to the big villain reveal.
To be fair the movie does include many pulse pounding action sequences as director DJ. Caruso does have a good eye for building tension. The trouble is, not one of these segments is innovative and lifted yet again from other movies. The film makers have commented that The French Connection was a big influence so it is no surprise that we get a ton of car chases and even 2008’s action cliché of the year, with yet another huge 18 wheeler truck being exploded into the air. There’s even an absurd scene where police cars chase Jerry and Rachel’s SUV into a junk yard whereby huge construction cranes appear from no where and clasp onto the police cars, either crushing them or throwing their metallic carcasses over the landscape.
Near the end Jerry finds himself in yet another car chase (again??) and this time instead of giant cranes with claws the antagonist hacks into an American UAV unmanned hunter-killer flying drone which takes off and fires a barrage of missiles at Jerry’s automobile. At this point the stakes are enormous and Jerry’s death becomes a must for the film’s villain yet they only use one drone? What about sending a squadron of them to just blast the entire section of road he’s on? Of course, the film doesn’t seem to care about these questions and proceeds on its merry path of alternating rousing action scenes with quieter moments.
Both Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan make an endearing heroic duo although their roles are much more rooted in the physical work rather than extended exposition that serves just as a vehicle to show the two falling in love. The film actually doesn’t bother to even go that far as there’s just not enough time to develop this relationship before another overblown action sequence is upon us.
Eagle Eye is one of those films that audiences will be glad they didn’t splurge to see in the theatres. On one hand it is engaging enough of an experience to shut your mind down and watch two young thespians running around like their life depended on it but it’s a total guilty pleasure whose plot doesn’t even hold a drop of common sense. In short, it’s the perfect definition of a big dumb blockbuster. For some that will be enough to justify a rental but for others just stay far far away.
** out of ****
2008, USA, 118minutes, Dreamworks, PG-13
Directed by D.J. Caruso
Screenplay by John Glenn, Travis Wright, Hillary Seitz, Dan McDermott
Produced by Patrick Crowley, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Executive producer: Edward McDonnell, Steven Spielberg
Original Music by Brian Tyler
Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski
Jerry Shaw: Shia LaBeouf
Rachel Holloman: Michelle Monaghan
Zoe Perez: Rosario Dawson
Defense Secretary Callister: Michael Chiklis
Major William Bowman: Anthony Mackie
Agent Toby Grant: Ethan Embry
Agent Thomas Morgan: Billy Bob Thornton
Ranim Khalid: Anthony Azizi
Sam Holloman: Cameron Boyce
Mrs. Wierzbowski: Lynn Cohen
Admiral Thompson: Bill Smitrovich
Mr. Miller: Charles Carroll
Jerry’s Dad: William Sadler
© 2009 The Galactic Pillow