Film review: Eagle Eye

“Big Brother is watching you,” warns a newscast at the beginning of Eagle Eye, the latest in a long line of thrillers concerned with the encroachment of technology on every aspect of life in the digital information age.

Taking his cues less from 1984 than from 2005’s Stealth (which in turn featured a hollow echo of 2001’s villain, HAL 9000) and the somewhat more credible Enemy of the State, director D.J. Caruso draws two seemingly random civilians, Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBoeuf) and Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) into a tortuous plot culminating in – what else? – an assassination attempt on the president of the United States.

 Eagle Eye

Directed by D.J. Caruso.

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Tornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis.

Jerry has enough on his plate, dealing with the recent death of his brother Ethan and facing up to a distant father, when he finds a stockpile of contraband weaponry and explosives planted in his apartment.

A mysterious voice phones him, warning him that the FBI is about to arrest him – recalling the opening scenes of The Matrix – and after an unsuccessful interrogation by Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), which again evokes the far superior Wachowski brothers film, the same voice arranges to break him out of custody and proceeds to give him relentless directives. (“You have been activated, Jerry,” the woman says, as if he were a member of a sleeper cell and she his handler.)

Rachel is in similar straits, with the voice threatening to kill her son by derailing the train he is on if she does not strictly adhere to its orders. She and Jerry rendezvous and march unhappily through a series of tasks toward the voice’s undisclosed end game, pursued at every turn by Agent Morgan. Meanwhile, Air Force Special Agent Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson) and the secretary of defense (Michael Chiklis) work to unravel the plot from the top down.

LaBoeuf and Monaghan are suitable leads, but they react so differently to the stresses placed on them (he with gruff anger and laconic resignation by turns, she with desperation showing plainly on her face) that the two seem like characters from different movies. They don’t simply exhibit different personality traits so much as appear to have been juxtaposed from two separate screenplays. And their acting is simply not up to the task of enlivening the middle portion of the plot, in which the two protagonists’ heartfelt soliloquies elicit yawns more than emotional involvement.

Chiklis and Dawson inhabit such paint-by-numbers roles that they have little room for interpretation or emotion. It is Thornton who makes the most of his time onscreen, giving what starts off as a one-dimensional stock character some range and depth with doses of deadpan humour and urgent, manifest anxiety.
The production values are good enough to buoy up the film, keeping Eagle Eye afloat (if by a small margin) even when it grows tedious toward the middle, even when the ubiquitous “blurry-cam” distracts from otherwise thrilling action set pieces. The set design itself shows innovation, taking Jerry and Rachel on a harried tour of an airport’s baggage-processing conveyor belt system and into a junkyard populated by bloodthirsty wrecking machines.

Although it gives away its antagonist relatively early on and foreshadows the revelation almost from the very first frame, Eagle Eye survives without the whodunit aspect thanks to its action scenes and the performances of its leads. The climax is an assured one, succeeding because it doesn’t try to be more epic than it is (something which ruined Vantage Point), but the closing scene which follows is a throwback to the maudlin sentiments of the second act.

Ostensibly, Eagle Eye wants us to question the role of technology in our lives, and the way we everyday citizens react to unimaginable stress with the lives of our loved ones on the line (as if Kiefer Sutherland and 24 haven’t plumbed this enough on television). But when the dust settles, the lingering mystery is why this plot, inhabited by this cast, couldn’t have been exponentially more engaging.