It’s no secret. We are being watched. With news stories on unlawful surveillance becoming commonplace, it’s hardly a stretch to think the worst is happening. In fact, a little film called Enemy of the State covered this territory 10 years ago.
This material is perfect for a suspense thriller, with the big bad government chasing down the idealistic, possibly clueless everyman. It could even be the model for an old-school Hitchcock film, updated with modern touches. However, lazy filmmakers who choose a simpler path could risk delivering a dull, mind-numbing experience. It’s difficult to create tension if an omnipotent force can drop power lines on unsuspecting enemies whenever it wants. When the real government struggles to do even the basic things correctly, it’s hard to believe it could ever build a powerful, all-seeing device.
D.J. Caruso’s Eagle Eye might pretend to criticize our increasing reliance on technology, but it’s really just the setting for a big dumb movie. Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) are the innocents thrust into the unrelenting action. A mysterious woman’s GPS-like voice calls with instructions that should be followed, or else. The ultimate revelation is hardly a shock and shows the four screenwriters’ unwillingness to say anything relevant.
When we finally discover the voice’s goal, it reveals far too many plot holes to even discuss in one sitting. If Shaw and Holloman are such pivotal characters, why throw them from buildings and send them into massive car pileups? Isn’t there an easier way to reach their final destination than via a highly secured airport? I can accept a stretch here and there, but enough occurs here to make your head spin.
In the Asymmetrical Warfare: The Making of Eagle Eye documentary, Caruso and Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski compare this picture to classic ‘70s thrillers like The French Connection and The Parallax View. But those films were never structured around bombastic explosions and unending car chases. The stories existed in a possible reality, not the ridiculous fantasy portrayed here. Caruso stressed the need for character moments to balance the action, but forgot to actually develop any personal connections. A better example is the video-game idea, where actions occur at a breakneck pace without depth. When our apparently helpless leads overtake an armored car by deftly handling shotguns, we’ve moved well beyond the real world.
For Shall We Play a Game?, Caruso sits down for 10-minutes with his mentor John Badham, who directed War Games. They appear to be kindred spirits and try to make the connection between the two films, but the bond is tenuous. Badham gives some interesting details about his work, but their discussion is detached from this film’s poor execution. Caruso again stresses his use of practical effects whenever possible, but that approach only works if matched with a good story.
The other trap is the constant use of quick-cutting during each chase. While Paul Greengrass utilized this technique wonderfully in the Bourne pictures, here it can lead to head-scratching sequences in most cases. The more common result is a loud, messy scene with little to offer but frustration and nausea.
The cast includes a surprising amount of talented actors slumming in supporting roles. After watching Michael Chiklis shine in the final episodes of The Shield, it’s disheartening to see him playing the bland role of Defense Secretary George Callister. We also have Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson as detectives investigating the case. It’s understandable that these actors will work on big-budget material, but why choose such bland characters?
In the lead roles, LeBouef and Monaghan are merely pawns to the action premise. His recent career offers several examples of this type in Transformers and the latest Indiana Jones picture. With another Transformers picture on the way, the young actor seems focused on continuing this trend. LaBouef collaborated well with Caruso in Disturbia, which used minimal settings to deliver a personal, tense experience. This film’s gargantuan budget and massive set pieces offer a lot more bluster, but few memorable scenes.
The bonus disc gives the filmmakers a little time to state obvious facts about the high-tech monitoring of our daily lives. The brief feature, Is My Cell Phone Spying on Me? brings in talking heads to provide a bit more information. Their comments appear for only a few minutes and are interspersed with obvious statements from the cast and crew. This disc would have been the perfect place for a longer piece covering the dangers of unchecked surveillance. Instead, the discussion is brief and must fit within less than an hour of total material. There’s little here to recommend purchasing the two-disc edition.
Eagle Eye treats the audience like its main characters and pushes us into action with little reason for being there. Concluding with a muted, awkward ending, the story tries again to make it about the lead characters. The plot’s few original elements disappear and quickly become forgettable. At least Will Smith got to argue with Gene Hackman and foil Jon Voight’s big plans in Enemy of the State. There’s nothing as fun (or interesting) here, leaving LeBouef and Monaghan stranded in an endless chase.