Look the Same Again
One of those edge-of-your seat roller-coaster rides that lost some of its signal strength following the overwhelm of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and Jon Favreau's Iron Man which eclipsed every other action film at the box office-- D.J. Caruso's Eagle Eye has been given the deluxe treatment in a dazzling digital transfer to Blu-ray by DreamWorks and Paramount.
Offering viewers a second chance to get caught up in the ideal format that matches the high-tech paranoia and breakneck pace of the film, I'll tackle this review in two parts-- first addressing the film itself (with movie clips, etc.) by presenting my original theatrical review and then taking on the Blu-ray aspects directly.
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 our 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 conveyor 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?
Whereas some older films manage to show their age when they make the format change, Eye is hitting Blu at precisely the right time, by including every single extra (aside from the photo gallery) in HD quality and giving viewers-- depending on their set-up-- the chance to tweak the picture to brighten up the predominantly dark color scheme, duplicate the intensity, and-- even without a five speaker and subwoofer wired room-- adjust the crystal clear sound to the right level for their particular comfort.
Including the nearly required favorites of a gag reel, the original theatrical trailer, and deleted scenes, I was particularly drawn in by the various making-of featurettes that take you on location in Washington D.C., on the road, or in the best one, given a full-access pass to "Asymmetrical Warfare: The Making of Eagle Eye."
Offering a nice balance between cast and crew interviews and rockin' stunt set-ups, we discover that essentially Disturbia director D.J. Caruso eyed his film as though it were a studio budget "independent movie," or the type of road film he loved back in the '70s like The French Connection (which he cited as a major inspiration).
With a constantly moving production as the entire cast and crew seldom stayed in the same location for more than two days, he freely admits that the first hour of Eye represented a near live-action video game as the characters (similar to the viewer) never knew exactly where the film was going as neither Jerry and Rachel nor the audience had any choice as their telephone narrator led them from Point A to Point B.
With the original idea for the film being hatched in the mind of American master Steven Spielberg a decade ago-- Eye's director and star LeBeouf marvel at the fact that back in the late '90s, the film would've fallen into the category of science fiction whereas now they realized that Spielberg's vision was not only possible but entirely probable.
As we're increasingly aware that our "digital existence" can be "more prevalent" than our "real one," the filmmakers strived for authenticity in making sure that everything that happens in the film is viable as you can witness in the especially creepy scientific, Orwellian extra "Is My Cell Phone Spying On Me?"
Essentially reuniting with the same community of professionals both behind-the-camera and in-front of the lens that has helped present such modern day action films as Disturbia and Mission Impossible 3, LeBeouf was in ideal hands, being approached with the project from his "father figure" Spielberg even before he'd been handed Indiana Jones.
Relishing at the opportunity to work with Caruso again and joking that by now following Disturbia they have such a fast gesture based shorthand that the men can read each other with the minimum of words, Caruso was equally thrilled to present the former nineteen year old boy as a leading man.
Filmed when he was twenty-one but portraying a twenty-five year old, LeBeouf was teamed with a co-star six years his senior, but after you catch the off-screen chemistry and camaraderie between the adventurous and brainy Michelle Monaghan and LeBeouf, you realize that as unlikely it may seem on paper, it's actually a perfect fit.
Additionally, LeBeouf humbly noted that when he'd heard Monaghan was hired, he realized that most of the work was already done since she's so talented and they're comfortable with each other-- having worked together on Constantine a number of years earlier. Eager to launch headfirst into the increasingly complicated array of stunt-work (using a minimum of CGI as we're both terrified and impressed to discover in the featurettes), LeBeouf joked that given the fact that they did a large majority of their own stunts, it was constantly Monaghan who was pushing him on, running in four inch heels and hurling her body down a DHL conveyor belt, egging him on when he was tired with the teasing, "Why don't you just man up?"
While techies and special effects junkies will love the "how did they do that?" demonstrations including the big rig flip and the dedication to authentic live-action effects and sure enough, aside from the twenty-five minute HD "Asymmetrical Warfare" extra, there's a number of other making-of bonus features to explore, those who were more intrigued by the Enemy of the State styled ethical questions won't want to skip "Is My Cell Phone Spying on Me?" which interviews experts in the field of cyber security and privacy.
In the same turn, it also offers a creepy challenge to viewers that they should devote one entire day to be aware at how many times their photo is snapped and they are caught on a security camera as they go about their routine. Of course, I'd recommend trying this at your own risk and possibly, so that you don't send yourself into a frenzy, you may want to just go ahead and switch off your cell phone (if you can)... if not for the day than at least for the 117 minute running time of Eagle Eye.