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Check Your Eagle Eye (and Brain) at the Door
Eagle Eye (DVD)
Member Name: Hishyeness
Eagle Eye (DVD)
Date: 09/10/09, updated on 09/10/09 (111 review reads)
Advantages: Good entertainment, decent performances, perfect brainless fun.
Disadvantages: Parts of the film seriously stretch credibility. Disappointing ending.
For a relatively new kid on the block, Shia LeBeouf seems to be cropping up in a fair few films these days. First he was being mothered by Carrie-Ann Moss in Disturbia, then hanging out with a bunch of robots and Megan Fox in Transformers, after which he was swanning about with aliens and that creaky old bloke with the whip and Fedora in the latest Indy instalment, and now he gets to spend a whole film in close proximity to Michelle Monaghan. Some guys get all the luck. I want his job.
I was in the DVD store, casting about for a decent actioner to take home for the extended family to watch (my in-laws have a projector and I was looking for "big screen" material for movie night) when Eagle Eye caught my attention. I don't usually rent films without knowing anything about them, but the cover blurb was intriguing and the cast looked OK, so I took the plunge (but also grabbed "State of Play" as kind of a fall-back in case Eagle was a real duffer).
Jerry Shaw (LeBeouf) is a directionless serial slacker who has trouble committing to anything in his life. He has held a variety of jobs and travelled a lot, but to his father's obvious disgust, appears to be "wasting" his life. Jerry has a lot to live up to - his identical twin brother, Ethan, is a super-high achiever in the Air Force and obviously the pride of his parents lives - but although Jerry loves his brother, his mere existence is enough to constantly remind him of the failure that he - and others - perceive him to be. As such, he does not keep in contact with his family, preferring to go it alone rather than have to demean himself by asking for their help.
After this brief introduction to Jerry, he gets the first of two phone calls that will change his life forever. The first is from his mother, who calls to tell him of the tragic news that his twin has been killed in a car accident. The second comes shortly after he returns from the funeral. Having just found his previously empty bank account stuffed full of money, and a cache of weapons and explosives waiting in his flat, his phone rings, and a female voice calmly tells him that the FBI is about to raid his flat and that he has seconds to escape. This call sets a scarcely believable juggernaut of events into motion that forms the central premise of the film.
Meanwhile, across town, Rachel Holloman (Monagahan), is introduced as a hard-working single parent raising a precocious young boy. Her ex-husband is portrayed as self-absorbed and unreliable, but we only get to see him briefly, so the portrayal is a bit one-sided and anecdotal. We are introduced to this broken family as they meet up at a train station in Chicago to see their young son off on a school trip to Washington DC, where his school band is playing at the Kennedy Center as part of the festivities centred around the President's State of the Union address.
Having seen her son safely off, Rachel goes for a rare night out with her girlfriends, only to be interrupted by a phone call from her son. Only, it isn't her son. The same female voice threatens to arrange to have her son's train de-railed unless she follows instructions explicitly. Rachel and Jerry's lives collide very soon after, and what follows is an intense, action packed and highly entertaining race against the clock which combines suspense, thrills, wry humour and some decent acting performances to make a good, fun film.
Without doubt, this is the best acting performance I have seen from LeBeouf in his short career to date. He plays Jerry Shaw with a pathos and endearing charm that gives the character surprising depth. This is a guy - an everyman - that you end up caring about and can relate to despite the slightly unbelievable things that are happening to him.
Monaghan, on the other hand, is either a limited talent, or looks like she is going through the motions. Perhaps it doesn't help that her character comes across as a little unsympathetic (sending your seven or eight year old kid 1,500 miles cross country to perform at the nation's best classical music venue - and you prefer a night out on the lash with the girls? Honestly!). Also, while you are pretty sure about what drives Jerry Shaw, you don't really get a handle on Rachel Holloman, and while there is some chemistry between the two, it seems a little forced and lazy.
The supporting cast puts in a good turn - especially Billy Bob Thornton as the FBI agent tasked to track down the fleeing pair - although there are shades of Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive) in his cynical, world-weary and slightly grizzled performance. Michael Chiklis has a small role as the Secretary of Defense, which he pulls off credibly, ably assisted by Rosario Dawson's Air Force liasion. Nobody is going to win an Oscar for their performance, but no one really lets the side down either.
Once the film gets going, it gallops along at a breakneck pace, hardly giving you a chance to think, or catch up - which is just as well really because a lot of the events stretch credibility even for Hollywood. The central conceit of the film (and I give nothing away here) - the use of everyday technology as a means of covert surveillance and manipulation - is thought-provoking and interestingly realised, however, at times, it is so unbelievably executed that you just sit there thinking "You're kidding - no chance!". The "12" rating is fully justified due to the violence (several people are shot and the chases are pretty destructive) and the foul language routinely used by the protagonists.
DJ Caruso (who also directed LeBeouf in "Disturbia" and Michael Chiklis in "The Shield") directs with an even hand, and at its running time of just under 2 hours, it's a generally well-paced film, although there are one or two places where it drags just a little. Steven Spielberg is listed as an "Executive Producer" (and features prominently on the marketing material) but I am not really sure what that role actually adds to a film, so tend not to place great store by it. Apparently, according to the extras, very little digital enhancement was used in filming the stunt and chase sequences, which definitely adds to the realism of the film.
Finally, the ending is pure Hollywood. It's difficult to critique without giving too much away. Up until then, it was doing quite nicely as a "check brain at door" type high-tech actioner with a heart, with a nice little redemption story on the side. Suffice it to say, in my book, the last three or four minutes were totally unnecessary, added nothing to the film and to be frank, really annoyed me.
The DVD comes with a photo gallery (with stills from the film and publicity material), a short featurette called "Road Trip" telling how the film was made and highlighting the experiences of cast and crew in shooting for only two or three days at various locations, a gag reel that is actually quite funny, and an alternate ending which I'll let you make your own mind up about. Very much like the film, the extras are hit and miss in quality (and quantity) and won't take you more than ten minutes to cycle through. On their own, I'd give them six out of ten. The DVD is currently available on Amazon.co.uk for £5.98, but you're better off renting than buying even at that price.
If you are after a bit of mindless fun, don't mind the lack of originality, and are willing to be carried along by a film rather than actively participate in it, then Eagle Eye is pretty good as the limited genre goes. LeBeouf does just about raise the film above the mediocre with his performance. Just don't spend too much time analysing what you are seeing because once you scratch the surface you realise that there's not a whole lot of substance underneath. That said, it it's entertainment you are after, there's nothing wrong with superficiality - this is Hollywood after all.
Recommended - with reservations.
© Hishyeness 2009
Summary: It won't win any Oscars, but worth a look nonetheless.