Friday, October 3, 2008


In EAGLE EYE (***), the loony, paranoid new thriller from director D.J. Caruso (DISTURBIA, THE SALTON SEA), the number of movie influences and references called up by the four credited screenwriters (Travis Wright, John Glenn, Hilary Seitz, and Dan McDermott) is pretty staggering. Ideas and chunks from a host of better movies are thrown up on screen: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Tony Scott's ENEMY OF THE STATE, Alan J. Pakula's THE PARALLAX VIEW, David Fincher's THE GAME, and Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST all immediately leap to mind. And while not necessarily a bad thing, it creates a whiff of sameness in Caruso's otherwise energetic and stylish action picture. A solid cast is top-lined by star-of-the-moment Shia LeBeouf and pretty-thing Michelle Monaghan, and rounded out with fine supporting work by Billy Bob Thorton, Rosario Dawson, and Michael Chiklis. At one time a directing vehicle for Steven Spielberg (who apparently came up with the story a decade ago), it's the kind of pumped-up, Michael Bay-esque action flick that blows a lot of stuff up really well and entertains the audience for two hours. And like most popcorn movies, suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer is required. However, with EAGLE EYE, you'll need a crane the size of Milwaukee to do the suspending. A strenuously ludicrous blend of technological paranoia and government hijinx, the film is beyond contrived but works well enough from scene to scene to keep you from questioning the plot for too long.

And wow, there's a lot of plot in this overstuffed movie. You've probably seen the trailer, so to be honest, I don't want to go into a major discussion of what the film is really about, because the less you know about it, the better it will work. Jerry (LaBeouf) is a regular guy working a dead end job at a Kinko’s somewhere in Chicago. One day, after going to the ATM and seeing that somehow his depleted checking account mysteriously has $750,000 in it, Jerry heads back to his cramped apartment, only to be greeted with another, larger surprise -- an insane amount of guns, suitcase bombs, rocket launchers, 1000 lb bags of fertilizer, high-powered binoculars, and lots of fake passports. He then gets a call on his cell phone from a sketchy sounding female voice (kind of like the Verizon woman) who tells him that the FBI is about to storm his apartment and that he better leave immediately. Not knowing what to do, Jerry stalls for a moment, just as the FBI and SWAT teams crash his pad and put him in cuffs. Enter Rachel (Monaghan), a sexy single mother living in Chicago with a cute 8 year old son who's off to a concert recital in Washington D.C. She's out having drinks with some friends after dropping her son off at the train station when she gets a call from the same female voice, telling her to walk down the block and get into a waiting Porsche SUV if she ever wants to see her son again. Jerry, still in custody, is left alone for a moment in a briefing room when the phone rings. It's that pesky voice again, telling him to duck. He does so, in the nick of time, as a massive crane arm slams through the window, creating an escape route. The voice tells him to also go to that waiting Porsche. Jerry and Rachel meet at the car, and are immediately (and justifiably) suspicious of one another. Before they can talk, the feds are shooting at them, and the first of many turbo-charged car chases and shoot-outs occurs. For the next 90 minutes, the two of them must obey whatever the voice tells them to do in order to stay alive. Never quite knowing what's going on, they have no choice but to stay on the move, waiting for the next set of instructions from the voice. And this is one powerful voice on the other end, able to change traffic lights, summon drone aircraft from military bases, operate construction equipment, and even manipulate high-tension power lines as lethal weapons in one of the films more original sequences. Yes, you will find out who the voice is by the end of the picture, and yes, nothing is exactly what it seems in EAGLE EYE. It's the kind of movie that is both predictable and unpredictable at the same time; you know the lead characters are going to get out of this predicament alive, but it's how they get to their final outcome that keeps you guessing.

The movie looks fantastic. Shot in Bay-esque, saturated colors by the great cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (PIRATES 1-3, CRIMSON TIDE, SWEENEY TODD) and going for a Peter Berg-esque hand-held technique, Caruso goes for a glossy look with a gritty feel. He knows how to stage thrilling action scenes, with one set in a highway tunnel that is both completely ridiculous and highly enjoyable. It's clear that he knows how to work with a big budget (this film is his biggest yet) and I wouldn't be surprised to see him tackle a massive event film in the near future. He could have benefited from a few more wide shots during the first car chase, but Caruso is out for the visceral rush, and he gets what he wants. And when you cut through all of the action pyrotechnics, there are some really disturbing ideas at the core of the film's plot. Again, without giving away too much, the film, much like ENEMY OF THE STATE, imagines a U.S. government that is all-seeing, all-knowing, and corrupt around the edges. It's just that the corruption arrives in a different form than one might think. If you've got a cell phone or a car or a computer you can be tracked to your exact whereabouts, and the writers clearly demonstrate a distinct weariness when it comes to how advanced our technology has evolved, and how much people rely on being constantly connected. There is probably too much plot in EAGLE EYE for its own good. It works best when it's operating as a tense chase film; the byzantine nature of the convoluted plot requires some heavy thinking while watching and especially at the end. Which isn't a bad thing; movies should stimulate the brain and the eyes. But sadly, the more you think about what's happening on screen, the less sense the film makes. Still, it's an entertaining thriller with lots of real-time explosions and LaBeouf and Monaghan are a solid team. I saw the film on a rainy Sunday (and in the IMAX format; check your listings) and it did what I wanted it to do: entertain me. Don't expect high art, but you can expect some wild fun.


Joel said...

Agree totally. Silly but lots of fun. And LaBeouf's getting better and better.

Anonymous said...

Director D.J. Caruso takes the next step forward towards being hollywood’s newest blockbuster thriller director in
eagle eye
.With Eagle Eye he’s making his play to become the next Michael Bay.