It’s almost impossible to talk about this movie without spoiling, so
if you don’t want to know how it ends (and I know there are a fair
number of people who have actually seen it and wish they didn’t know
how it ends), steer clear after the big spoiler marking.
Eagle Eye starts off strange, man. Utilizing the Syd Field
decree to open on action, screenwriters…well, there are really too many
that it’s not worth listing them off (I can hear a thousand angry
screams from my screenwriting professors)…anyway, they start off with
some branch of the military weighing the pros and cons of taking out a
guy they’re pretty sure is a big-deal terrorist. Eventually, of course,
they eliminate him (and how!). But the rest of, essentially, the first
act is pretty quiet, letting us get to know Jerry Shaw (Shia LeBeouf)
and learn a little bit about Rachel (Michelle Monaghan).
Then all the stuff from the trailers starts happening – Jerry walks
into his apartment, which is loaded with all sorts of killing devices.
Some woman on a phone tells him he’s been “activated” and has to run.
Jerry’s captured by the FBI, but escapes when a huge crane destroys the
part of the building he’s in. He meets up with Rachel, who’s son is in
danger if she doesn’t do what the voice on the phone tells her.
The gravest offense – and I mean this sincerely – is that DJ Caruso
has no concept, none at all, of how to film a car chase. And there are
a fair amount of car chases in the film. I’m actually pretty tolerant,
even supportive, of handheld, messy action sequences – if you pay
attention and frickin’ focus, the action in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and especially The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum makes sense. It fits together. It really, really does work once you get in the rhythm of it. Eagle Eye tries to do the same sort of thing, and it’s pretty clear the film wouldn’t exist in many ways if not for The Bourne Ultimatum (in case you haven’t noticed, this film rips off a LOT of other films),
but Caruso doesn’t have it. The car chases are completely incoherent.
You get a basic idea of what happened, but only by the aftermath, and
they seem choreographed really, really well. But there’s no sense of
build or rhythm, it’s almost impossible to get a sense of where
everyone is in relationship to each other, or even who’s in a given
situation (Rosario Dawson and Billy Bob Thornton showed up out of
nowhere in the first big chase). Basically, for a movie that’s one big
chase, the chase doesn’t always really work.
But the cast does. If there’s one guy who I love showing up in big
summer action movies (and release date aside, this is very much that),
it’s Billy Bob Thornton. He hits a lot of really great notes in parts
that would otherwise be pretty flat and uninteresting. But don’t worry,
this being a summer action film there’s lots of flat and uninteresting
to go around, Rosario Dawson and Michael Chiklis being the two main
beneficiaries (can’t believe Dawson turned down Zack and Miri Make a Porno to do this…then again, I haven’t seen Zack and Miri Make a Porno).
I’d say Dawson’s character suffered from being a woman in a summer
action movie (consistently the most underwritten, bland characters),
but wouldn’t you know it, the screenwriters actually went out of their
way to give Monaghan’s character flaws! Sexism has come a long way.
The screenplay’s pretty smart overall, if increasingly formulaic
(also relentlessly dumb in small areas – when The Voice is making all
the traffic lights turn green, Michelle Monaghan actually yells out,
“all the lights are turning green!”). The intricacies of the plot are
pretty interesting – it’s fun watching everything fit together, and
it’s got that cool Fight Club thing where all these people are suddenly in on it. A lot of the film, as many others have noticed, is like the first act of The Matrix,
and it has the same rush of “how the hell are they doing that.” Except
you kinda know – the world is increasingly connected and the government
probably has access to everything you say and do on any sort of device
that sends or receives a signal (not a spoiler; there’s a news
broadcast early on that makes this explicitly clear). The question
becomes who’s doing this, because the government’s chasing Jerry and
Rachel and increasingly forcing them to break the law, so it couldn’t
be them, could it?
The answer is…sort of. The central conceit of the film is pretty
interesting. Essentially Jerry is a key component of this massive plan
to eliminate the Executive branch of the government for stepping
outside the bounds of the Constitution. That’s the cool part. The lame
part is that the bad guy is a computer. It’s this big computer the
government created to sort of run everything and prioritize the massive
amount of information that’s gathered electronically. Only it’s
programmed (and why would the government program it to do this?) to
uphold the Constitution, which stipulates that if the government
oversteps its bounds, the citizens have the right and the duty to
overthrow it. All of the government agents are good. Jerry and Rachel
are good. There is no one for anyone to be fighting, not really. Even
though they’re all thrown into fighting each other, the only real enemy
by the end is a computer. It’s sort of like Stealth, except the planes are everywhere.
The biggest problem with this, besides the dramatic component where
you’re supposed to have an interesting enemy, is that the computer
starts all this because of that opening incident where the government
killed the supposed terrorist, only he wasn’t the guy they were after.
Because of this mistake, nineteen American soldiers were killed. Hasn’t
the government gone outside the Constitution in some larger way in the
past? Or at least in some way at all? Isn’t the very existence of the
computer an acknowledgment that the government is actively invading the
American people’s privacy, itself a violation of the Constitution? It’s
not that the reason for all this mess is necessarily bad, it’s just
that it could have all been solved if it was the responsibility of some
rogue government agent. Or something. Maybe Russians.
It’s all pretty much worth overlooking. The reveal happens
relatively early in the film – something like midway through. The film
remains exciting enough to distract you, but as it becomes more and
more formulaic (at least they didn’t make Jerry and Rachel have sex
when they were stowed away on that cargo plane; why is it that anytime
a guy and a girl are in a life and death situation, they immediately
want to hump it out?), many of these realizations hit you.
After hearing relatively good word on Disturbia and great buzz for this, I was sort of expecting big things from DJ Caruso, but unfortunately his eye is Eagle’s
biggest problem. In the end, I can excuse many, many script issues if
the characters are interesting and it’s shot with assurance and style
(this is how I ended up liking most of Michael Bay’s movies). However,
this doesn’t quite get there.
Scott can be reached at Snye@megazinemedia.com
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