Written by: Lance Carmichael, CC2K Staff Writer
Eagle Eye was set up and greenlit during the excitement over the unexpected boffo box office of Disturbia last year out here in Hollywoodtown, USA. The confluence of conditions is familiar to afficionado’s of flavor-of-the-month young leading men: Shia LaBeouf suddenly appeared to be a star-on-the-rise, carrying what was generally regarded as a crappy movie to success because of his mysterious appeal to teenagers. The powers-that-be also knew that he would blow up with Transformers later in the summer, because, well, it was Transformers, and he was in it. From LaBeouf’s side, Eagle Eye looked like a good bet to take the momentum he’d been building and solidify his place as a solid box office draw. Why? Well, read on!
Eagle Eye is a slick thriller straight out of the Three Days of the Condor vein: innocent nobody suddenly on the run, in the middle of a vast, dangerous conspiracy he doesn’t understand. It’s a sturdy, malleable genre that usually goes one of three ways: straight-up, straight arrow, star-driven thrills and spills (Enemy of the State); weird, dark and disturbing exploration of the dark side of postindustrial power (The Parallax View); and crappy (Nick of Time). Eagle Eye fits snugly into the first category. It’s slick, it’s fast-paced, it throws ideas out at you quickly, and it’s not going to offend Middle Americans. There’s no gray: bad guys are bad, all our favorite actors are good, there’s no politics in the movie, it’s got a few laughs, it affirms family values, and everything comes together in the end in a big, pulse-pounding finale…just like you knew it would.
The script has clearly been tailored for LaBeouf’s particular brand of frazzled everyman charm (to get the absolute, distilled essence of what LaBeouf brings to the table, check out this clip that’s been circulating around the Internet). He plays a guy—“Jerry”—who’s hitting thirty and still living like he’s in his early twenties. It’s an easily recognizable archetype—call it the “quarterlife crisis” or the Kicking and Screaming stage—which is good, because the plot moves fast and furiously.
It’s no surprise that Eagle Eye is slick and effective and inoffensive. The surprise would be if it weren’t all those things. Here are the writers credited on working on the script: John Glenn and Travis Wright, (young guys who probably wrote the first draft before it was passed on to their much-better-remunerated elders), Dan McDermott (young guy, probably second draft), Hillary Seitz (Insomnia, did a pass on the female lead to bring in a woman’s perspective (I know that’s horribly misogynistic, but that’s how Hollywood suits think)), J.R. Orci (of Alias fame), Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers, MI3, The Island, the upcoming Star Trek reboot), and JJ Abrams (no introduction necessary). Oh, and the story is by some guy named Steven Spielberg. This is what we call in the industry a Murderer’s Row .
So there are two big “hooks” that Eagle Eye will no doubt be sold on. The first will inevitably appear in all the marketing, and is revealed right at the beginning of the movie. “Jerry” (Shia LaBeouf’s character, remember?) actually has a twin brother. Though Jerry works at a Kinko’s in Chicago (which—conveniently—has an elevated train system where exciting chases can take place), his brother is some kind of hotshot working for the government who dies off-screen in the beginning. Jerry’s troubles result from his bro’s untimely demise and uncleaned messes (by the way, an innocent brother getting into trouble because of his connected brother’s death is the same hook that another legendary entry into this genre took: Marathon Man).
Before you know it, “Jerry” is on the run, and a Tommy Lee Jones-in-The Fugitive-type character to be played by Billy Bob Thornton (“Morgan”) is chasing him. Also on the run is Michelle Monaghan (who has apparently been in six movies I’ve seen and I still have no idea who she is—six movies!), who is a single mother who gets involved in the conspiracy because of threats to her no-doubt-moppetish son, who we can all guess right now will be played by an annoyingly articulate child actor. It never really becomes clear why this single mom gets singled out to go on the run with stranger “Jerry” –although, hey, now that you mention it, she does function quite nicely as both a love interest for him and a way for him to “grow” as a character (she’s a single mom, so when he starts banging her after the happy ending, he becomes a father to her child, I guess).
The second big hook gets into more spoilerish territory, so I’m going to go ahead and be careful and warn you right here before you move on. It’s the big thing behind the whole conspiracy, and it’s revealed halfway through the movie in the big ’Splainin’ Scene that is rote to the genre. Although artistically it would probably be better if they don’t spoil this plot point in the trailer, these days I’m almost positive they’ll spell everything out, so it may not end up being that big a spoiler after all.
Okay, here it is: the “person” at the heart of the evil conspiracy turns out to be a supercomputer. If HAL from 2001 secretly ran the Department of Homeland Security rather than a spaceship…then 2001 would actually be Eagle Eye. Like HAL, the computer here (called ARIA) decides that human error is problematic and takes governing the state of the nation into it’s own digital hands. This, of course, involves a highly complicated, ridiculously complex plot that hinges on ARIA not only being practically omniscient—it’s able to control the speedwalks at airports and spit money out of ATM machines to create diversions—but setting up innocent people halfway across the country and keeping them one step ahead of Billy Bob Thornton. Which sort of makes you question just how super-intelligent ARIA actually is. All in all, though, it’s a cool idea, though of course not hugely original—it’s more of the What if X from Y movie suddenly appeared in Z movie? variety.
SPOILER ALERT OVER!
Eagle Eye is fast and slick and will no doubt offer many tense, edge-of-your seat moments. It will also completely fall apart under any kind of scrutiny. Which pretty much makes it what it is: a decent Summer movie. Which, given all the writers involved, is not a big surprise. Let me put it this way: Eagle Eye is the kind of movie where everything specific introduced about a character pays off at the end. You know, the old Just So You Know, I’m Randomly Really Good at Chess Scene pops up in the first act, and then at the end, the villain makes the hero battle him on a deadly, life-sized chessboard, only he didn’t know the hero was actually good at chess, and that’s how the hero ends up beating him kind of flick (obviously that’s not a real—nor very good—example…but I think you get what I mean).