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Big Sister is Watching (and Listening)
by Mel Valentin on Sep 26, 2008
For their second collaboration, D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Two for the Money, The Salton Sea) and Shia LaBeouf (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Disturbia, Holes) decided on Eagle Eye, an action-heavy update of the paranoid political conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s and the wrong man/double-chase scenario popularized in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and North by Northwest. Caruso’s previous effort, Disturbia, was a loose remake of Hitchcock’s exploration of voyeurism, murder, and monogamy, Rear Window. While Caruso is no Hitchcock, it’s LaBeouf’s charisma that makes implausible plot turns, frenetic set pieces, and clichéd material more than bearable.
In Washington, D.C., the Secretary of Defense, Callister (Michael Chiklis), and the president of the United States (Madison Mason) consider authorizing an attack on a terrorist leader in Afghanistan, risking collateral damage and strained international relations. In Hyde Park, Illinois, Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a thirty-something single mother, watches as her eight-year son, Sam (Cameron Boyce), departs via train with his classmates and teacher to perform at the Kennedy Center in DC. That night, Rachel receives a phone call from an unidentified number. The woman on the other side of the line informs Rachel that she’ll derail Sam’s train. As proof, she directs Rachel to check out the flat screen TVs located at a nearby McDonald’s. Sam appears on every screen. To see Sam again alive, Rachel must follow the mystery woman’s instructions, regardless of what state and federal laws are broken in the process.
In Chicago, a twenty-something slacker and Copy Cabana employee, Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf), returns home after the death of his brother, an Air Force public relations officer, in an accident. Stung by comments from his family about his personal and professional failures, Jerry returns to his apartment, where, to his shock and surprise, he finds a weapons cache capable of arming a small militia or terrorist group. Jerry simultaneously discovers a new deposit of $750,000 in his bank account where, only hours earlier, he was penniless. Almost immediately, Jerry receives a call on his cell phone from the same mystery woman who contacted Rachel. She tells him to get out immediately or risk capture by the FBI agents already on their way to his apartment.
Jerry’s refusal to listen to the mystery woman’s directions leads to his capture. At the FBI field office, Special Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton) leads Jerry’s interrogation. During a lull in the interrogation, the mystery woman contacts Jerry again, offering him a way out. He takes it, eventually jumping into a car driven by Rachel. Together, they must follow their controller’s directions or risk losing their lives (or, in Rachel’s case, the life of her son), while Morgan, an Air Force investigator, Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson), and a horde of faceless agents pursue them.
Developed from an idea by executive producer Steven Spielberg, Eagle Eye has a great deal in common with Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State, a prescient pre-9-11 political conspiracy thriller, and its 1970s predecessors (e.g., All the President’s Men, Marathon Man, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View): the wrong man/double-chase formula mentioned above, fears and anxieties about the erosion of civil liberties and the unfettered expansion of the governmental power, and the use of terrorism as a political tool to silence criticism and stifle dissent.
Unfortunately, Eagle Eye doesn’t just require the suspension of disbelief most thrillers ask for and willingly receive from moviegoers on a regular basis (i.e., any time we step into a movie theater); requires a suspension bridge of disbelief between the highly implausible and the near impossible. Plot points are hastily sketched out, characterizations are either left out altogether or handled in nuance-free shorthand, gravity- and logic-defying set pieces are the norm, and the big real reveal of the villain’s identity strains credulity and disappointing for its familiarity.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Sep 26, 2008