Director : D.J. Caruso
Screenplay : John Glenn & Travis Wright and Hillary Seitz and Dan McDermott (story by Dan McDermott)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Shia LaBeouf (Jerry Shaw), Michelle Monaghan (Rachel Holloman), Rosario Dawson (Zoe Perez), Michael Chiklis (Defense Secretary Callister), Anthony Mackie (Major William Bowman), Ethan Embry (Agent Toby Grant), Billy Bob Thornton (Agent Thomas Morgan), Anthony Azizi (Ranim Khalid), Cameron Boyce (Sam Holloman), Lynn Cohen (Mrs. Wierzbowski), Bill Smitrovich (Admiral Thompson), Charles Carroll (Mr. Miller), William Sadler (William Shaw)
Warning: This review contains major spoilers. Proceed at your own risk if you have not seen the film already.
Eagle Eye is a techno-paranoid nightmare on steroids. Its underlying fear is based on interconnection, the idea that all technologies--traffic lights, security cameras, cell phones, spy planes, junk-yard cranes, and elevated trains--are networked so that, if someone (or something) were to have access to all of it, he or she (or it) could literally manipulate the world. Like all techno thrillers, there is something vaguely plausible about it all, even as it pushes the envelope of just how much we’re willing to suspend our disbelief. In this sense, Eagle Eye is very much a “go with it” movie: Either you go with the premise and it works, or you don’t and it doesn’t.
The film reunites director D.J. Caruso and star Shia LaBeouf, who last worked together on Disturbia (2007), a teen riff on Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) that also focused quite extensively on the role of technology, although it was limited largely to the entertainment gadgets fetishized by today’s teenagers. Caruso clearly recognizes LaBeouf’s screen charisma, but he tends to bury it in the film’s hectic pace and numerous action sequences that are so hectic and disorienting that it’s difficult to know what really happened. (Given that the film relies a great deal on the audience’s willingness to set aside rationality, perhaps the downright incoherent nature of the action is meant to shake anyone trying to think too hard out of their mindset.)
LaBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, a twentysomething slacker in Chicago who works at a copy store and barely has enough money to pay the rent on his tiny apartment, that is, until more than $750,000 suddenly appears in his bank account and he goes home to find his apartment stuffed with military equipment, heavy-duty firearms, and bags of ammonium nitrate. And, just seconds before the FBI crashes in to arrest him, a woman calls him on his cell phone and calmly tells him that he needs to run because the FBI will be there in 30 seconds.
This will not be the last time he hears from this mysterious woman, who seems to know everything and has the almost God-like power to control things in Jerry’s environment. Jerry is understandably reluctant to work with her, given that he has no idea who this woman is. But, he is ultimately forced to follow her directions because he is now being pursued by both a dogged FBI agent (Billy Bob Thornton) and an Air Force investigator (Rosario Dawson) who thinks that what is happening to Jerry might have some relation to the recent death of his twin brother, an outstanding Air Force cadet who was everything Jerry is not.
Meanwhile, the same woman is coercing a single mother named Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) into doing her bidding as well, under threat that she will derail the train that is currently carrying Rachel’s elementary-age son from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Soon, Jerry and Rachel are brought together into an uneasy alliance in which they must follow the mysterious woman’s every direction as pawns in some kind of grand scheme. The questions, then, are what is the scheme and who is the woman? Is she part of some massive terrorist organization? A member of the government? She is very nearly omniscient and is able to control virtually any technology at will, so there is even a kind of supernatural aura to her actions, which isn’t that far-fetched given that the film was coproduced by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who wrote and produced numerous episodes of J.J. Abrams’s Alias, a television show that was uncanny in its ability to meld science fiction, espionage, and the supernatural.
However, as it turns out, the woman is neither human nor supernatural, but rather technological. She is a massive, artificial intelligence computer named Aria that resides 36 floors below the Pentagon and was created by the Defense Department as a means of gathering intelligence from, well, everywhere. In the film’s opening sequence the military brass and the President decide to defy Aria’s recommendations and bomb a small village in the Middle East in the hopes of killing a wanted terrorist, a mistake that results in retaliation against U.S. embassies around the world. Aria considers this a breach of the government’s responsibility and decides to take matters into her own hands by eliminating the chain of command, which is where Jerry and Rachel come in: The end game is to use them to assassinate the President, Vice President, and virtually the entire cabinet, who will be gathered at the State of the Union address. Thus, Aria is like a mash-up of HAL, Proteus, Joshua, and every other artificial-intelligence computer run amok in the history of the cinema, although she is clearly meant to be the embodiment of what happens when the military-industrial complex puts all its faith in technological efficiency (isn’t this the lesson we were supposed to have learned from The Terminator?).
Of course, this is all patently absurd, as virtually everything that happens in the film is ultimately based on Aria’s ability to both manipulate things from afar and calculate precisely various probabilities, including the ability of ordinary people like Jerry and Rachel to do things like take down well-trained armored truck guards. At the same time, though, there is something gnawing about the film’s premise; even though it clearly resides in the realm of science fiction, it appears to be set in the present day, which is more than enough to tweak even the most rational person’s sense of paranoia. Eagle Eye may ultimately fail the plausibility test based on our current knowledge, but it does leave us with a fascinating and frightening sense of “What if?”
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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