WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: Underachieving copy-shop worker Jerry Shaw gets the shock of his life when he is ‘activated,’ along with disorganised single mother Rachel, to carry out the bidding of an unknown female who uses CCTV and other technology to watch them and control their actions. With the FBI hot on the pair’s trail, they rush across America to Washington where they discover the identity behind the voice – and the full extent of the drastic plan they are helping to execute.
It must be galling to be an independent film-maker, scratching round for funding, perhaps getting fifty thousand dollars together to lovingly bring to reality an idea worked on for five, ten years, maybe more. You get your friends and family to work for free, re-mortgage your house, sell your car; and you still can’t get the film shown because the local multiplex has got something like Eagle Eye on three screens: loud and lavish with money thrown at actors, effects and stunts, and none of the however-many million dollars making the film anything other than offensively stupid.
When Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) gets money thrown at him by an absurdly generous cashpoint machine, it is a rare and brief high point in a life which has been going nowhere for a while. Working in a photocopying shop, behind on his rent and distanced from his family, he also has to live with the death of his identical twin brother, a high-flying (no pun intended) computer whizz in the Air Force. Jerry has no time to enjoy his wealth, however, because his apartment is filled with terrorist apparatus; and a warning from an intimidatingly neutral female voice to run comes too late to save him from the FBI in the form of gruff agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton). Jerry is miraculously helped to flee from custody by the voice, who then brings him into contact with Rachel (Michelle Monaghan), a single mother who packed her trumpet-playing son Sam off to Washington on a train earlier in the day and received her own call threatening the boy’s life unless she complies with everything she is told to do. The all-pervasive network of security cameras, phones and other modern machinery enables the voice to guide the pair to their eventual targets, keeping Morgan one step behind as, helped by individuals who have also been roped into the task, they head towards the capital and specifically Capitol Hill, where the leaders of the USA are gathering for the State of the Union address.
Taking paranoia about how our everyday interactions are watched, scanned, and monitored as its theme – in particular the invasive powers granted to the US government by the Patriot Act – you can see the potential for intrigue in this plot (who is the voice? Who does she work for? Why has Jerry been picked? What’s going to happen in Congress?). Unfortunately, Eagle Eye comes at the story from such a ridiculous angle (and without a smidgeon of a sense of humour about its own ridiculousness) that it is almost impossible to take seriously. It starts with the silly premise that “the authorities” can pick up conversations from any phone even if you’re not making a phone call, and just gets sillier from there: the power behind the female voice can engage cruise control on cars, work automatic cranes, fly planes, bring down power lines, make out conversations from vibrations in coffee, and of course operate just about any CCTV camera in existence.
Given this absurd amount of power, it seems bizarre that Jerry and Rachel are needed at all, but the plot demands that they are present when the American President is due to be killed by – I kid you not – an exploding necklace triggered by Sam’s trumpet. Were this an action comedy in the Naked Gun mould the plot could hardly be sillier, and yet Caruso treats it with morbid solemnity throughout, even whilst Monaghan redundantly holds the audience’s hand by saying ‘The lights are all turning green!’ as the lights turn green during one of several car chases, and keeping a straight face during a cosy heart-to-heart the pair conduct, mid-air, in a crate. Incidentally, given that Monaghan looks all of the ten years she has over LaBeouf, the film wisely avoids suggesting much of a love interest – yet it can’t help itself at the very end.
As for the big reveal – who’s behind it all – well, I won’t spoil it here but can reassure potential viewers that it’s no less silly than the rest of the film; it would also have had Stanley Kubrick choking on his popcorn, were he still around. Kubrick might have applauded the film’s theme but would probably have found little else to enjoy, especially not the sight of Rosario Dawson’s Air Force investigator Zoe Perez splashing around in liquid nitrogen (it may, to be fair, just be water but it’s never made clear) or Jerry getting shot in the back many times and living to tell the tale.
Eagle Eye would probably like to call itself a dark, edgy thriller with a timely warning about the security of our increasingly digital identities and the danger of placing too much control in the hands of government bodies, however good their intentions may be. However, the dumb parts of the film are so glaring – and so obviously culled from more original movies (Terminator, I, Robot and The Matrix come immediately to mind) – that no amount of cool filters, smooth action, or committed acting can save it (to be fair, the acting is of a good standard and Billy Bob Thornton, as always, is good fun). It’s actually worth a watch, but don’t expect to be convinced by the story: you will surely find yourself saying ‘That would never happen!’ over and over, until you too wish that the money had been spent on a modest – but credible – indie flick.