Can You Fear Me Now?
Big Brother’s big sister wreaks havoc in Eagle Eye
By Jared Peterson
For any of you who have ever felt victimized by the cheerful automated voice that stands between you and flight information or tech support, Eagle Eye is your nightmare scenario. In this techno-thriller, a smug and detached artificial intelligence manipulates innocent people into following baffling commands with unknown consequences. But rather than just fraying nerves, the woman behind the curtain is intent on using terrorism to destabilize the world order. Press “1” to continue…
Her first contestant is Jerry Shaw (Transformers’ Shia LaBeouf), an underachieving copy shop employee, who she motivates by stuffing his apartment with terrorist toys and calling the FBI. Then she talks him through his escape and teams him up Rachel (Michelle Monaghan), a single mom whose young son will be killed if she doesn’t cooperate.
This telephonic puppetmaster is jacked directly into the grid of our computerized lives, seeming to see and know all. She can manipulate anything electronic—traffic lights, automated machinery, even power lines. As Rachel and Jerry rush from task to task—receiving instructions from LED displays, GPS navigation systems and ubiquitous television screens—we follow their progress through the unblinking eyes of an endless surveillance network. Bouncing like pinballs through a dizzying urban maze, their way is cleared by the malevolent eye-in-the-sky, who then sows chaos in their wake—police, FBI and scores of innocent bystanders shoved violently aside.
Eagle Eye treads the familiar ground of 21st-century thrillers like as Enemy of the State and the later Die Hard films. The action is edited sharply and with manic intensity, and the camera stays tight on our heroes’ harried faces as they strain and struggle—LaBeouf with the quick mouth and wide eyes of a kid trying to hold his own, and Monaghan with the frantic expression of a young mother who has lost her child in the world’s most dangerous mall. The plot lines are intricately woven, becoming more mysterious and foreboding as other coerced citizens appear out of the woodwork to hand off a package or clear an obstacle. Surprises pile on top of one another as gaps are filled in and the menace spreads to the highest levels of power.
Though certainly derivative, Eagle Eye manages to cop to, and then somehow disarm, some of the genre’s clichés. For example, like most everyman heroes Jerry and Rachel display flashes of unlikely bravado, jumping from cars and wielding weapons with seeming ease and aplomb. But the movie calls attention to this in a scene with the FBI’s agent in charge (Billy Bob Thornton), in which he deduces that the suspects probably aren’t trained operatives because they act like people whose only experience with firearms comes from… over-the-top action movies. Also, as in many such popcorn flicks, Eagle Eye’s main characters are somewhat thinly drawn, their personalities cobbled together from off-the-shelf personal problems (Jerry is estranged from his family; Rachel’s ex-husband is a deadbeat dad). But we find out later that they were chosen for manipulation based on specific “data points” that stem from their unstable lives and troubled histories.
The violence of the film can be summed up in one phrase: “collateral damage”. There’s little blood, but the melee of flying bullets and crushed and mangles cars leaves no doubt as to the human toll taken. (My audience ooh-ed, aah-ed and cheered at the hyperkinetic chase scenes, but were reduced to quiet nervous laughter when an innocent family van gets puckered with stray gunfire.) On two occasions human beings are vaporized—a Muslim funeral is mistakenly bombed by US forces, and an unlucky man is caught between the ground and a power cable. There are one or two notable double entendres, and characters under stress swear at PG-13 levels.
Eagle Eye is no better but certainly no worse than the wild-ride action thrillers it mimics. And it’ll have you clamoring for a real live person the next time a friendly machine answers the phone.
At a September 26th screening, the following previews were shown: Death Note II (unrated, but would probably be an R), a Japanese action film being screened two nights only in mid-October; Pride and Glory (R), a cop thriller with Colin Farrell and Edward Norton; Valkyrie (PG-13), a historical drama with Tom Cruise as a good Nazi; Quantum of Solace (PG-13), with any luck, the second-awesomest Bond film ever; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (PG-13)—this looks like a dark, bizarre Forrest Gump; Changeling (R), a missing-child drama with Angelina Jolie; and The Soloist (not yet rated), a feel-good drama with Robert Downey, Jr. and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx.
Jared Peterson will overanalyze anything ya got, for a small fee. Sample some of his work at http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.