Eagle Eye is a grandiosely mounted, at least borderline baroque action movie. D.J. Caruso's previous teaming with Shia LaBeouf, Disturbia, utilized Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window as its framework, and this time executive-producer Steven Spielberg has spun an amusingly incredulous plot for a four-person team of screenwriters (Dan McDermott, Hillary Seitz, Travis Adam Wright and John Glen) to hammer out that couples the ceaseless forward narrative movement as enacted through action and suspense, and sportive jocularity, of North by Northwest with Spielberg's fears of widespread technology empowering an increasingly unaccountable government to spy, harass and control the people (ala Minority Report). Producer Alex Kurtzman remarks, “Steven always wanted people to walk out of the theater and turn off their cell phones and BlackBerrys because they were so scared.”
Suffice it to say, Eagle Eye is a predominantly pleasurable exercise in the sensorial soiree of the cinematic, an intermittently well-honed, though regularly unfocused, and disjunctive action movie. With a godlike supercomputer controlling every item that can receive a signal from deep within the bowels of the Pentagon, the stacked deck for the heroes, Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) and Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), could not be more insurmountable. Naturally, however, these two inexplicably entwined strangers will gradually learn just enough to combat the force that has commandeered their very lives, reducing them to mere pawns in a struggle of voluminous geopolitical import.
Jerry and Rachel are devised as catalysts for the audience's emotional involvement, but most of that will stem from LaBeouf's vaporous, aeriform-like star power, which ably propels just enough necessary empathy to allow for a largely unquestioned investment in the character's fate. Monaghan is given some appropriately emotionally terse moments that translucently convey the horrors of her fate (her very young son is being used as the ultimate bargaining chip), but she never especially captures the multitudinous planes of mesmeric attitudinal contradictions and paradoxes birthed from an ostensibly preternatural contrariety with which LaBeouf is perhaps singularly endowed in his age group. There is a reason he is cast in the rote role of the recalcitrant reluctant hero; he's the most endogenous fit for it in quite a long time. In that sense, Spielberg is probably correct: LaBeouf has formed a roughly particular onscreen disposition, and is now being supplied with vehicles that enhance and emphasize it.
Caruso's direction lends a kinetic adroitness to the proceedings that helps to keep the inherent ludicrousness of the plot in check, or reasonable facsimile of same. Especially in the first two acts, when the plot is still in the gloriously dependable process of thickening, the parallel story beats intersect with a fairly persuasive rhythmic synergy. Immersing situations involving some impressively drawn characters give the viewer hope that the film will be able to sustain a certain integrity. The movie begins promisingly, with the Secretary of Defense (Michael Chiklis) being told by the president to fire upon a suspected terrorist ringleader in a fictional nation (the film almost bumps into a bizarre confluence of satire and laziness when the fictional nation's name ends in the four letters, “-stan”). After Jerry and Rachel are introduced, and after Jerry is framed for being a terrorist, the film enthusiastically introduces more characters of pertinence such as Agent Thomas Morgan (agent of what, this writer does not remember, nor care) played with a keenly eristic recklessness by Billy Bob Thornton. Soon another agent of another agency joins the fray, Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson).
Eagle Eye is, however, all too successful at blending these supporting characters into the storyline and not entirely adept at maintaining the human interest of LaBeouf and Monaghan's parts. Monaghan does what she can with an underwritten role, but she is almost entirely stuck playing the woman-in-jeopardy fighting to save her son, something Ashley Judd may have taken some years back. Only moments after the protagonist has been introduced, Jerry is informed that his twin brother was recently killed in a car accident, and as the plot progresses, the physical and pneumatic symbiosis between twins, one deceased, one carrying on as the target of an all-encompassing conspiracy, is highlighted as an indispensable component that initially succeeds as the film's vector. Slowly, however, Jerry's quest takes on the trappings of an ambiance-trembling heedlessness, derived from the young man's defiance of his own “slacker” lifestyle pre-worldwide conspiracy interrupting said lifestyle. The staleness of the furiously, frenziedly paced odyssey is a hurdle over which many a moviegoer will not successfully jump. It truly is a credit to LaBeouf that he takes the consequential but undercooked back-story of his character and convincingly breathes life into a series of choices that should feel positively predetermined by the nature of the tale but sometimes resonate with an estimable sense of unpredictability, caressed by tear-drenched heartache.
Nevertheless, it is in the supporting players that the film most consistently hits its stride. The banter between agents is not anything especially revelatory or unique, but Thornton and Dawson furnish the picture with some necessary and commendable grounding. Thornton especially becomes helpful in lending a frosty blast of cynicism and paranoia that matches the iciness of the film's weather, its chilly bluish gray color scheme befitting a story set in late January. (“It's cold as hell out there,” Thornton says with impish clarity, smartly recognizing the incongruity of his own comment. An oxymoron is always best delivered by a veteran actor of certain fierceness.) Chiklis' Defense Secretary is a measured, cautious man, who is plagued by one definitive weakness, a temporarily blind faith in a system whose robotically, emotionlessly voiced malice blatantly recalls the machinations of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, this time given a feminine voice, a kind of twenty-first century femme fatale with the least amount of humanity.
Eagle Eye wears its charms brightly, through its atmospherically bleak setting and dark visual palette, and though the final act is riddled with the gnawing, dissatisfying bloat and predictability that is almost invariably the great wrecking ball of entertaining action pictures, somehow it manages to hold on to be considered a modest success. Spielberg's touches are present, from the homages to Kubrick (including the image of the DVD box of Full Metal Jacket) to a winningly-realized decisive plot point based on musical notes. What is finally left for the viewer is an entertainment of diverting purposes, but a more insidiously realistic rendition of the bale of cellular phones, BlackBerrys and all of the rest would be most welcome. Technology is outrunning those who create it, and though this film can be readily dismissed as insignificant high concept movie star vehicle fodder, at least a reasonable element of its message should not be. Such is the way with many cinematic baubles of this kind. Just because some movies bathe in an unabashed ludicrousness does not negate their points, or their humanity. In some decent and acceptably flighty movies, the coating of popcorn-inducing frivolity simply serves as a lubricant, so as the picture surceases, the average, guardedly appreciative audience member can file out the door, cell phone in hand, taking their filmic soujourn with them with greater elusiveness and innocence, without letting the visage of the nominally adult fairytale's bogeyman remotely linger in their consciousness.