Saturday, October 4, 2008

Eagle Eye (2008)


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.

21 comments:

nick plowman said...

If it’s Shia LaBeouf, I’ll be there. It opens later this month in SA, and I’ll be there. I missed the press screening back in August, but I shall live. I’m glad to hear the film doesn’t suck though.

Sam Juliano said...

Well, I must say Alexander you have surprised me greatly with this assessment, although I haven't yet seen the film. (My wife and kids saw though and rather liked it) The cumulative reviews at the sites have been uniformly awful, but I have seen more than one instance where such a dire prognosis did not result in a bad film at all. case in point, THE DUCHESS, where I reject the critical concensus lock, stock and barrel.
The first sentence of paragraph 2 and this masterpiece of construction pretty much nabs your summary reaction: "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, disatisfying bloat and predictability that is almost invariable the great wrecking ball of entertaining action pictures, somehow it manages to hold on to be a moderate success." Well that tells it all, that's for sure! Of course earlier in the review, Alexander admitted the film was "unfocused" and "disjunctive," sure signs of trouble. I had the sam efeeling in that sense last night as I watched BLINDNESS.
In any case I come away from this (typically) well-written review with a sense of 'deja vu', but with the perception that it may provise one with a decent-enough two hours of weekend entertainment.

One could certainly do a lot worse.

Alexander Coleman said...

Don't expect a masterpiece, simply a reasonably enjoyable two-hour thrill ride, Nick, and you shouldn't be disappointed, especially considering your enthusiasm for LaBeouf. He holds his own and then some here. He definitely has quite the future ahead of him.

Yes, Sam, shortly after posting this review I looked at the Rotten Tomatoes page and saw that most of the reviews were unforgiving. Many are excessively harsh, I believe: this is not as incoherent as many a critic has stated. That doesn't excuse some aspects of its slightness, but there you are. It's one I'd classify as, "Simply not as bad as you've heard." There is nothing wrong with the occasional high-calorie meal of fried chicken. Beneath all of that fattening, crispy cooked flour and egg, remains at least some protein. "Deja vu" is true. Indeed, as some critics have noted, Eagle Eye incorporates quite a few sequences that will remind the viewer of past action movies.

Thank you very much for the very kind words, Sam, as always.

Anonymous said...

liked the movie very much.kept me on the edge of my seat and managed to keep me entertained even though it doesn;t seem like a very origginal script it actually felt fresh and interesting and very imaginative. dont forget billy bob thornton yeahhhh!!!!!!!!!

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Anonymous.

Billy Bob Thornton was memorable.

(MAJOR SPOILER BELOW)

His last scene was predictable and I'm tired of that character option in this kind of movie, but he was good enough in Eagle Eye that I missed the character on that level, in any event.

Daniel Getahun said...

Wow, big BBT fan there.

I always like when someone who knows how to write reviews takes on one that everyone ragged on. I haven't seen EE, but if and when I do, this will be worthy of another visit.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Daniel.

You just might find a good time to see this; I suspect you'd find it at least partly agreeable for some reason. I'll just say it's significantly better (and more fun) than Blindness.

Matthew Lucas said...

Excellent assesment Alexander. While I think LaBeouf was quite good (surprisingly so in fact), Thornton was the highlight for me. As you rightly point out, the supporting performances really steal the show.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Matthew. Thornton definitely gave the film a pleasing and necessary credibility.

Frederick said...

I was very entertained by this movie, but I understand why you said what you did here. It was a worthwhile way to spend two hours, and the acting was very good. At least that's the way I saw it.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Frederick. I agree! It was a good deal of fun, something any cinematic diet needs on a regular basis, and like you I thought most of the acting was very good, making us care about characters living in a story of almost limitless possibilities. In some ways, I like it a little bit more now, having adjusted myself to accepting the conclusive act more than I had at the time I wrote this review.

patrick said...

Shia LaBeouf has turned himself into a sure bet for a movie to make millions and millions no matter what... even though his name is hard to remember (and spell)

Alexander Coleman said...

He does have a tricky name, but LaBeouf is certainly on the fast track to stardom.

Sergei Smirnov said...

The most honest review of this movie I've yet seen. I hvae to say your writing is nothing short of beautiful and the eloquently articulate way you formulate your responses to films seems to be equal part mental and visceral. Reading your work, you truly remind me of Pauline Kael, but even more expansive and expressive. And it takes special guts to at least sorta defend a movie everybody else has kicked around.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you for the extraordinarily kind words, Sergei, and most importantly thanks for reading and commenting here. I'm very humbled by your statement.

Anonymous said...

although its not about download eagle eye movie which i was looking for but i really enjoyed this post so much.thanks for sharing.

Alexander Coleman said...

Okay, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Alexander, you're so nice. You give books, movies and gifts to people all the time and if someone in a room has a cough you run and grab a bottle of water. And you're way too smart for me! And this blog shows you're a great writer and thinker.

Anyway, you know who I am. I liked this movie a little too but it does have some problems. But for pure guilty pleasure, it's not even close to being bad so it's all good.

Keep up the great work here and in every other part of your life man.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much, Anonymous. Glad you enjoyed the movie for what it is.

Anonymous said...

...and if someone in a room has a cough you run and grab a bottle of water. And you're way too smart for me! And this blog shows you're a great writer and thinker."

Alexander,
All I can say is...You Won!
I have nothing on you, when it comes to those last two sentences...and you know who I'am!

Stan said...

Yes, Coleman is simply the nicest guy you'll ever meet. He goes the extra mile for all of his friends and neighbors. As my girlfriend says he's an angel.

This is a pretty decent action flick. Of all the reviews on the movie this is by far my favorite. Very substantial work here.