Even veteran high octane cinema junkies may be surprised at Director D.J. Caruso's ability to bury your head against the headrest and put a cinematic G force on you that may cause your date to scream.
After US forces bomb a Middle Eastern terrorist target - despite computer warnings there is barely 50% probability we have the correct target - we jump to Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) - a card shark and copy shop employee whose prospects are dim. After an earlier collaboration with Caruso in Disturbia and a major role in the last Indiana Jones movie, LaBeouf moves into the action hero mold alongside actors like Matt Damon and Daniel Craig. And LaBeouf handles the role with both believability and style.
About fifteen minutes into the film Jerry's life spins rapidly out of control. He arrives home to find explosives and weapons delivered to his apartment sufficient to arm a small nation. The ride starts when his cell phone rings, and a woman tells him he has 30 seconds to flee his apartment before the FBI descends. It's at this point where a seat belt should be fastened.
Jerry and another victim, Rachel (Michele Monaghan) are seemingly thrown together at random by cell phone messages that they have each received from this mysterious woman. There are cozy moments where we try to get to know Jerry and Rachel but these serve chiefly to let us catch our breath. But then again character development is not really what we're after.
Perhaps inspired by George Orwell's 1984 and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, there's an attempt to play on the "Big Brother" and technology gone awry themes - although in this case it's Big Sister, and her name is Aria. It's an interesting twist for the audience to see a woman in this role and to hear her talk in the ironically reassuring voice of a flight attendant.
You may remember that great moment in the Kubrick film when HAL, the computer assistant to the astronauts, says, "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." Well the same mutinous instinct is at work beguiling the characters in this movie. And Aria is one independent minded lady.
We are simultaneously exposed to a world where we have no privacy. Our cell phones, laptops, surveillance cameras, all conspire against us. It's a fascinating and real enough scenario to work, and to scare us skinny. So I won't spoil any more of this terrific ride, but I will tell you this movie is aided hugely by the appearance of Billy Bob Thornton playing FBI agent Thomas Morgan and Michael Chiklis ("The Sheild") as the Secretary of Defense. Thornton in particular brings originality and energy to a role that's often stereotyped into a shout fest. He has some great one-liners, and he offers a gritty believability to his role.
The weak link of this kind of action story is the inability to bring the action to a suitable close, and, I'm afraid, things are no different here. This element seems to be the downfall of even the most compelling and intriguing thrillers. So you'll have to have reached a place, as I did, where the ride was so satisfying that you're willing to forgive a little schmaltz at the end. As Mr. Bean once said, "Brace yourself!" because it's coming at the end of this one.
We don't go to these kinds of movies to sit afterwards in discussion groups. But, hey, what did you expect Stanley Kubrick?
Eagle Eye ★★★✩
Directed by DJ Caruso. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Chiklis and Michelle Monaghan. Rated PG-13