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Director: D.J. Caruso
Next time your phone rings and it’s just a telemarketer or a public opinion poll, consider yourself lucky. Director D.J. Caruso reteams with his Disturbia leading man Shia LeBeouf for yet another high tech Hitchcockian styled paranoid thriller sure to make one initially suspicious of all incoming calls or texts for at least twenty-four hours after his film Eagle Eye ends.
While that can only come as a pleasant surprise for those frequently over their cell phone minute plans and the parents struggling to intervene in their teenager’s text message addiction, in the world of Eagle Eye (view the trailer), the phone becomes even scarier than it was in Wes Craven’s “the call is coming from inside the house” styled horror trilogy, Scream.
Thanks to a current era of the online banking, the Patriot Act, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, wiretaps, online tax and vehicle registration, scanned medical charts, traffic cameras, elevator cameras, hidden microphones and GPS navigational systems, now more than ever Orwellian’s Big Brother is watching.
Blending together Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State, Wes Craven’s Scream, Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Jan de Bont’s Speed, and even a conveyer belt homage to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, D.J. Caruso’s fast-paced stunner is by far the most gripping thrill ride of 2008. Much like David Fincher’s Panic Room, Eagle Eye has a deliciously simplistic set-up that the team of writers milk for all it's worth as regular citizens find themselves in extraordinary circumstances after a mysterious woman with a chillingly calm yet controlling voice (Oscar nominee Julianne Moore) phones two strangers and informs them that they’ve “been activated.”
Activated for what, neither character is entirely sure, however they quickly realize that their lives as well as their loved ones are in overwhelming danger unless they comply with each and every demand she aims their direction whether it’s holding security guards hostage to obtain a top-secret briefcase or fleeing from authorities.
Set in the near future—January of 2009 to be exact and beginning with an introduction right out of the world of Tom Clancy and Jason Bourne—it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize they’re being set up as terrorists as part of a vast governmental conspiracy but who authorized the game and how do you request a time out when you’re not the one calling the shots?
The first victim is the delightful wisecracking slacker Jerry Shaw (LeBeouf, whose ability to charm, flirt, scheme and improvise reminds me of a young Paul Newman). When he isn’t busy being rude to the customers at the Copy Cabana or manipulating his coworkers in a masterful poker bluff, he’s using his charisma like a weapon on a fellow transit passenger or trying to make ends meet with his incessantly late rent.
After he gets word that his patriotic and heroic twin brother, the air force officer Ethan Shaw (complete with a genius I.Q.) has perished in a truck accident in Washington D.C., Jerry is stunned to discover upon returning from the funeral that his bank account is well into the six figures and he’s received an alarming number of dangerous packages containing firearms, bomb-making equipment and poison delivered to his apartment. Within seconds, his cell phone rings and Moore’s voice coolly instructs him that he should run as the F.B.I. will be there directly.
Sure that this is all some sort of easy misunderstanding, Jerry ignores the bullying voice and is interrogated for suspected terrorist activity and about his deceased brother by the no-nonsense Joint Terrorism Task Force Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton). Advised that it’s not the best time to become a terrorist by Morgan (just one of many zingers nailed by Thornton), Jerry continues to plead his case as a quintessentially Hitchcockian innocent man to no avail.
And after Ethan’s old colleague, Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson) a fellow Air Force officer arrives to find out exactly what’s going on with the situation on behalf of Defense Secretary Callister (The Shield’s Michael Chiklis), Jerry is stunned when the attorney general faxes in an authorization for him to make a phone call, yet far more concerned when he discovers the voice cutting into his call is none other than Julianne Moore’s. Yet this time, instead of ignoring the stranger’s demands, like Keanu Reeves’ Neo in The Matrix, he accepts her advice to flee from the F.B.I.
Meanwhile, as Jerry is well into his own plight, we encounter the second victim of the mysterious Moore in the form of the lovely Michelle Monaghan (Made of Honor). A devoted single mother and minimum wage earning paralegal who grudgingly packs off her beloved trumpet playing son for band camp in Washington D.C., on her first night out with the girls, Monaghan’s Rachel Holloman receives a similarly frightening call.
“Rachel Holloman, you’ve been activated.”
While Rachel has the benefit of being out in public and not trapped in a tiny apartment filled with mercenary equipment fitting for a Unabomber, she takes a decidedly different and logical approach by dialing 911 before Moore cuts back into her call and tells her that if she continues to disobey, her son will be killed. And it’s only a matter of time before Jerry and Rachel collide by the demands of the dangerous stranger, being led on a deadly scavenger hunt as they make their way towards a fateful State of the Union address, with Thornton and Dawson’s characters following the entire way.
While it’s filled with intense, nonstop action sequences that continuously top the one before it in a way for which neither actor is unprepared (as LeBeouf had starred in Transformers and Indiana Jones and Monaghan had been cast in Mission Impossible 3), one of the benefits of Eagle Eye’s approach is that it seemingly demands intellectual audience participation as we strive to stay ahead of Moore’s demands along with our heroes. Whether it’s imagining what we would do in a similar situation from just hanging up the phone or merely refusing or trying to change a plan—despite a finale that does involve a major 2001: A Space Odyssey styled suspension of disbelief—every action initiated by Jerry and Rachel seems entirely plausible.
However, one major drawback involves the presentation as similar to Cloverfield, the filming style of a constantly moving camera is hard on the eyes especially when rapid-fire quick cuts that flow far less smoothly than the comparable ones in last year’s Bourne Ultimatum are added into the mix. And additionally, the volume, much like Dark Knight and Iron Man seems as though it could cause hearing loss yet if you pack along ear plugs and make sure you don’t sit too close to the screen, the comfort level for viewing should benefit considerably.
Still, despite this, I must admit that it’s by far my most recommendable blockbuster of the year so far and one sure to appeal to not just Orwellian and Philip K. Dick devotee cyber techies but especially action junkies eager to re-experience the same type of edge-of-your-seat rollercoaster we did more than a decade ago with Jan de Bont’s Speed. And this is ever more the case since, despite the continuous calls to go green, a relatively small number of us ride the bus but nearly everyone and their brother has at least one cell phone. Who will be calling you next? Can you hear me now?
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