Dir: D.J. Caruso. US. 2008. 117 mins.
A slickly-packaged yet ultimately-unpersuasive political action thriller, Eagle Eye collapses under the weight of various story incongruities, in large part because its sprawling, conspiratorial plot and mode of storytelling don't ever fully align.
A re-teaming of Disturbia director D.J. Caruso and star Shia Labeouf, the movie represents a crucial test of commercial leading man viability for the young actor. Domestically, decent mid-eight-figure grosses seem assured, given both Eagle Eye's complete lack of genre competition and its simultaneous release in the IMAX format, which helped extend The Dark Knight's popularity this summer. Internationally, though, this will test the staying power of LaBeouf's rising star. Disturbia did a modest 32 percent of its cumulative $118 million gross overseas, but Eagle Eye's assassination plotline is very specifically related to American politics, which could suppress returns.
Set in and around Washington D.C., the story centres on a piecemeal terrorist plot, with different 'cells' being activated against their will. Copy shop employee Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) finds his life turned upside down when his twin brother mysteriously dies. Returning from the funeral, he discovers his apartment crammed with bomb-making supplies. A strange woman calls his cell phone and orders him to flee, but Jerry is captured, and questioned by FBI Agent Thomas Morgan (Thornton).
Simultaneously, single mother Rachel Holloman (Monaghan) sends her eight-year-old son off on a school field trip, only to get a call from the same woman threatening to derail his train if Rachel doesn't obey her orders. The voice on the phone is soon revealed to be a rogue, omnipotent government defense computer system, which brings together strangers Jerry and Rachel and parcels out instructions that unwittingly lead the pair into complicity in a scheme to eliminate most of the United States' elected government.
In pursuit of the on-the-lam duo, along with Morgan, is Air Force investigator Zoe Perez (Dawson).
Hatched several years ago by executive producer Steven Spielberg as a techno-phobic thriller, Eagle Eye shows the wear of much tinkering by many writers. The wildly preposterous plot hinges on governmental hyper-competence at a time when all evidence in the real world points to the contrary. The super-computer is depicted in having God-like abilities, then creates a God-awful mess in trying to frame two ordinary Joes.
Former television director Caruso has proven himself a stylish shooter of genre fare, and Eagle Eye is his biggest outing to date. Technically, the film is fairly well put together, though a first act car chase sequence is choppily edited, and lacks spatial clarity. Unfortunately, the style of delivery doesn't match the story's paranoia and invasion of privacy themes. A grittier treatment would have been more in keeping with the subject matter, or even a tone of polished, heightened absurdity similar to this summer's Wanted.
None of the actors have much of a chance to register deep impressions given the brisk nature of the plotting, but Thornton, in sardonic command mode that faintly recalls his work in Armageddon, displays a special skill with bureaucratic rejoinders. LaBeouf, still just 22, brings an appropriately-modulated level of emotional intensity to the proceedings, but it remains to be seen whether he can fully transition from playing wild-eyed boys to steady men of resolve.
Edward L. McDonnell
John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright, Hillary Seitz, Dan McDermott
Visual effects supervisor
Billy Bob Thornton