This afternoon I watched the latest release from Dreamworks, Eagle Eye. Directed by D. J. Caruso and starring Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Moaghan and Rosario Dawson, it’s an exciting film that’s clearly inspired by Enemy of the State, Star Wars (specifically The Empire Strikes Back), and a veritable screening room of modern surveillance films.
Problem is, while the story is pulled together very well and it’s exciting, it’s also a few minutes too long, a few minutes that really adversely impact the film and leave you…
Well, before I talk about the problem with the ending, let me explain the basic premise of the film.
In Eagle Eye, Shia LaBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, a bit of a loser who works at a copy store and is so strapped that he can’t even pay his rent. His twin brother, a star athlete and Air Force officer, has just died and after he attends the funeral he finds himself trapped, having to perform various criminal activity, having been framed by persons unknown. He checks his ATM and finds there’s $750,000 in his account and the machine (rather inexplicably and stupidly) spits out dozens of $20s. A few minutes later, he walks into his apartment to find it full of bomb making equipment and high-tech military weapons.
It’s a very Hitchcockian beginning, the everyman who is suddenly caught up in a complex world that’s beyond his skills and experience. Think Cary Grant in North by Northwest. I love the basic premise and am always intrigued by the “what if?” nature of these storylines.
A minute or two after arriving home Shaw’s cell phone rings and it’s a mysterious female voice, a woman who warns him to run now because the police will be there in thirty seconds. He doesn’t believe her and is promptly assaulted and arrested by a police assault team.
We next see him in an interrogation room being questioned by the head of an Anti-Terrorist special police unit. The all-knowing, all-controlling group represented by the woman arrange for him to break out of the secure building and run, with many film cuts to surveillance cameras of various types.
Michelle Monaghan plays Rachel Holloman, a woman who works as a paralegal but is written as a somewhat inattentive single mother with, predictably, a deadbeat ex who forgets his son’s birthday and is late to childhood events (why aren’t divorced men ever cool, savvy, and attentive in Hollywood films?). Her young son Sam (played by the cute, but dull Cameron Boyce who doesn’t really have a role, he’s just a placeholder in the story) is on a train to Washington DC to perform with his youth symphony for the President and cabinet.
She too is blackmailed by the unknown group who threatens, via the same mysterious female voice calling her cell phone, to derail her son’s train if she doesn’t do exactly as she’s instructed.
The lead actors intertwine when “the voice” directs Shaw to jump into the car (a Porsche Cayenne that just happens to be sitting on a street corner in downtown Chicago with the keys on the seat?) that Holloman had just been told to jump into “or else”. The following scene, where they fight and yell at each other, each thinking the other is part of the group that’s blackmailing them, is one of the highlights of the movie.
Lots of seemingly unrelated vignettes in the movie gradually coalesce as the story unfolds, including a military test of a “crystal” based high explosive that only reacts to certain audio frequencies but, puzzlingly, is safe to cut with a diamond saw and mount as a piece of jewelry. The trigger ends up in the boy Sam’s trumpet but, oddly, even though it’s welded into the tubing of the trumpet, doesn’t seem to adversely affect his playing later in the film.
Acting-wise, I have to say that while I found Michelle Monaghan attractive, she has no depth as an actor: there were many scenes where LaBeouf was demonstrating his range while she stood blank faced and without any emotion at all. She’s had a pretty decent career so far (notably parts in The Bourne Supremacy, Constantine, Mr & Mrs Smith and Mission: Impossible III) but I fear she’s not going to go much further without an investment in acting lessons.
Worth noting is Billy Bob Thornton, who walks through his part as Special Agent Thomas Morgan, the cop who is initially trying to track down Shaw and Holloman, and then learns of the real story (which I’m trying not to ruin for those of you who don’t want the film spoiled) and becomes someone trying to help them as the web tightens and the final story is revealed.
There were a couple of big problems I had with this film, not the least of which was it never addressing the ethical and privacy dilemma posed by our surveillance society. In Enemy of the State (which itself was based on the brilliant The Conversation), there’s an acknowledgment by the protagonist that all the surveillance in our modern life is dangerous and worthy of careful consideration by the film’s viewer (and, of course, watching a film we are also complacent in the voyeuresque world of surveillance, as Hitchcock so ingeniously highlighted in Rear Window, but that’s another story). It’s such an omission that it’s almost comical.
The movie’s portrayal of a master computer developed by the military and hidden in the sub-basement of the Pentagon was also daft. In fact, it’s so laughable that my fellow filmgoers and I were cracking “HAL” jokes (from Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, of course) and expecting it to start singing “Daisy, Daisy” when they started yanking memory boards. Why can’t Hollywood ever portray powerful computers in a reasonable fashion?
The other problem, the one I alluded to in the beginning, was that the last few minutes of Eagle Eye should have been left either on the cutting room floor or in the “extended director’s cut” on the DVD. See the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. There are two short scenes after the dramatic climax of the movie, two scenes that are maudlin, trite, cliché and, in the final scene, ridiculously, formulaicly stupid too.
Having said all of this, is Eagle Eye worth seeing? Yes, and I think it’s worth going to see in a theater with a big screen. It is fun and enjoyable, a thrill ride of a blockbuster movie. Just ignore the flaws and take it for what it is.
Then go home and watch the double feature of Enemy of the State and North by Northwest. They’re both superior efforts in every way.