The Summer movie season may be over but director DJ Caruso has made an Indiana Jones-esque slide under the closing blockbuster wall with the paranoia driven Eagle Eye. (Appropriate since Steven Spielberg serves as executive producer on the film). Eagle Eye is a frantic action thriller that dabbles in political philosophy as it questions how far the powers that be would go to defend the fundamentals America was built on.
Paramount and Dreamworks golden boy Shia LaBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, an underachieving copy boy who finds himself on the run after a mysterious entity contacts him. Hunted by the FBI on charges of terrorism, Shaw is guided through escape after escape at breakneck speed. The ability of the government’s technology to watch Shaw’s every move provides plenty of chances for crashes and character conflict. The technology brings Shaw in contact with Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a mother whose son Sam’s life is threatened unless she also follows the entity’s directions. Shaw takes the lead for the majority of the film but Monaghan isn’t far behind as she puts on a motherly charm that helps you forget that the script seemed to be concerned more with Shaw’s character development. Billy Bob Thornton stands out as a skeptical FBI agent, Thomas Morgan, and it’s nice to see Ethan Embry make an appearance. We’ve been wondering what he’s been up to. Other solid actors like Rosario Dawson and Michael Chiklis are unfortunately thrown away. Literally any character actor could have played their parts and they merely serve as a recognizable face.
Director DJ Caruso’s shot selection and frenetic pacing parallel the chaos that is taking place in the story. He offers plenty of oohs and ahhs for the crowd, using the latest technology to effectively display how close Big Brother could be if they wanted. In a world of wiretapping and Homeland Security it rings very close to home. Very rarely does the film let up, but when it does Caruso wisely utilizes the time to offer insight into Jerry and Rachel’s dysfunctional lives. The car chases in Eagle Eye stand out, no shock considering Caruso has been through quite a few in his own life, allowing for an art imitates life moment. We’re guessing that Caruso probably never experienced any crashes like the ones in the film though, thankfully. It will be interesting to see Caruso’s next effort. I loved his work on The Salton Sea and he obviously has the talent to attack any genre he chooses.
The problem many will have with Eagle Eye is the often over the top plot. There are sobering moments like the prologue, a very realistic situation that addresses the difficulty our military would have during an assassination attempt. The funeral scene where Jerry helps bury his brother also offers a tender moment, if not a chance to breathe before the roller-coaster gets rolling. But by the time we are given the answer to who is navigating Jerry and Rachel we have already been asked to suspend our disbelief a little too far. There are several films to which most people will compare Eagle Eye; The Matrix, Enemy of the State, and 2001: A Space Odyssey all work because they either work towards creating a world completely unlike ours or one that is grounded in reality. But when a film contains a such an absurd twist inside an otherwise contemporary story, well, you can’t be surprised when viewers object. Eagle Eye chooses to make an attempt to find a middle ground between reality and the fantastic, and in doing so it has a hard time making its’ own mark.
Spielberg initially conceived the idea of Eagle Eye ten years ago and had it been made then it would have played to the strengths of other Spielberg creations, ones that offer an otherwise unbelievable story in a not too distant future. At worst it will have people walking out of the theater asking “Could the government really do that?” Part of the story is based on a scientific experiment in Japan so maybe it’s not that far off after all.
Eagle Eye will give action fans exactly what they want and should be commended for trying to take a smarter approach to a blockbuster film. However, the difficulty to cross genres and create a cohesive script seems a bit out of reach for the film’s writers. It’s not often that you walk away from a film where you feel there was solid acting and directing and yet still feel that something is missing. Eagle Eye is the exception to that rule.