Eagle Eye: Caruso’s Generic Picture, Starring Shia LaBeouf

Lagging behind the zeitgeist in terms of technology, politics, and ideas, D.J. Caruso’s “Eagle Eye” is a generic film not only in title but also in narrative and characterization. Even so, the movie may be significant in other ways: After the commercial success of “Transformers” and “Disturbia,” “Eagle Eye” reaffirms the status of the likable Shia LaBeouf as one of the prominent thespians of his generation.

There is a reason why the picture’s central premise feels outdated. The screenplay by Alex Kurtzman (also a producer) was proposed by Spielberg, who’s credited as exec producer and is instrumental in launching and keeping on track LaBeouf’s career (and much publicized life off-screen). Spielberg’s concept stipulated that technology was becoming ubiquitous, surrounding us in many ways, and thus can suddenly or not so suddenly turn against us human beings. In 1968, in his seminal sci-fi “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Kubrick played with the notion of what if the technology that that we love and depend on, was used on us in harmful ways, beyond our control. Since then, there have been several film about this idea, some by Spielberg himself.

The first reel of the film is dangerous, necessary, and ominous. At the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center, Secretary of Defense Geoff Callister must make a critical decision of whether or not to bomb an important target, an Afghan terrorist high on the wanted list. With hints but without much clear or firm confirmation of the terrorist’s identity, the President orders to proceed with the planned attack at what appears to be a simple funeral. Unfortunately, the bombing triggers rise in terrorist animosity against the U.S. overseas, as well as threats from within.

Cut to Chicago, where we meet Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf), 23, an employee at the local Copy Cabana shop, who’s summoned home, after his identical twin brother, Ethan, an Air Force public relations officer, is killed in a car accident. Relying on Freudian psychology, major events occur upon the arrival of Jerry, some precipitated by his (and our) knowledge that Ethan was the family’s pride and favorite son.

Meanwhile, single mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) is preparing her 8-year-old son Sam off to Washington, D.C., to play trumpet with his school band at the Kennedy Center. Rachel is understandably nervous, as this is the first significant separation from her son.

While socializing with her peers one night, Rachel receives an odd call on her cell by a strange, anonymous woman, who tells her to follow instructions blindly and implicitly, or else Sam, whose appearance is visible on a wall of TV screens across the streets, will get killed.

Strange events continue to occur, increasing the level of suspense. Back in Chicago, Jerry finds his usually meager bank account inflated to $750,000, and his sparsely furnished apartment crammed with do-it-yourself terrorist supplies. He, too, receives a call from the same mysterious woman, warning him to run away, or risk being arrested.

While still digesting the menacing news, Jerry is apprehended. In an FBI office room, Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton, in top form and thick Southern accent) interrogates Jerry, who claims to have been framed.

In a contrived, unlikely sequence, Jerry is left alone in the office, where he is once again contacted by the bizarre woman. Setting the plot in motion, the femme is affecting all the characters’ decisions–and fates. Defying realism or even movie logic, she succeeds in letting Jerry go by swinging a construction crane crashing through the window and then instructing him to jump.

One thing leads to another, and the woman takes Jerry to a Porsche Cayenne, where Rachel, whom he has never met, is also waiting. The formation of a new couple is in the works. Suspicious of each other from the start, Jerry and Rachel nonetheless soon realize they are both at the mercy of this strangely disembodied voice, a femme whose omnipresence is able to track their every move, possessing limitless control over their respective futures.

Tonally, “Eagle Eye” exploits not only our heavy reliance on technology–specifically cell phones and Blackberries–but the prevailing fear, scare and paranoia in the wake of 9/11, the notions that we are never really alone, that unknown people could observe and control our behavior, that we could be arrested on the slightest suspicion or whim.

In mood, there are echoes in “Eagle Eye” of Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster “Jaws,” which managed, among other distinctions to make innocent viewers fear of swimming in the wide blue ocean. However, like “Disturbia,” also produced by Spielberg and starring LaBeouf, which owed its existence to “Rear Window,” more than anything else, “Eagle Eye” draws heavily on Hitchcock’s prominent paradigm of the “Wrong, Innocent Man,” manifest in many of his best films, from the classic comedy-adventure “North by Northwest,” with Cary Grant, to the fact-based “The Wrong Man,” starring Henry Fonda.

Essentially, the story concerns not one but two strangers who are thrown together by random circumstances. Framed for crimes they didn’t commit, they are fighting for their lives while trying to prove their innocence. The level of suspense increases when it becomes clear that Jerry and Rachel are the pawns of a faceless enemy, which seems to have limitless power to manipulate everything they do and every person they encounter.

Rachel’s resolve to do what it takes to protect Sam from disaster puts her in spots which, like the Secretary of Defense (Michael Chiklis) in the film’s opening, require her to choose between terrible options. When Jerry and Rachel first meet, they immediately assume that the other is the source of their troubles. However, they quickly realize they are both victims in a larger scenario over which they have no control, and that if they are to survive, must learn to trust one another. Refreshingly, writers do not turn their relationship into a romantic or sexual affair, but one based on mutual respect.

The mysterious woman’s voice, whose direction Jerry and Rachel must follow, is both confounding and commanding. The impersonal “voice” requests bizarre, diabolical behavior from the duo, who have no idea where it’s coming from, as she seems to be in every phone, car, subway, and airport screen.

Meanwhile, the couple is pursued doggedly by Thomas Morgan, an FBI agent from the South with an initially suspicious, or at least ambiguous personality. Supporting Morgan’s search is Air Force Office of Special Investigation Agent Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson), who becomes involved because of Ethan, Jerry’s deceased brother, who was associated with the Air Force. Zoe’s young age means that she has to fight to gain respect from Morgan, the FBI, Air Force, and the Pentagon.
In many ways, the relationship dynamics of Morgan and Zoe parallels that of Jerry and Rachel.

The other characters are less well-developed, including Secretary of Defense Geoff Callister (Michael Chiklis of TV’s “Shield” fame), who seems to bear the weight of the world in his eyes, aged look, and gray hair. Rounding out the cast were Ethan Embry as FBI Agent Grant and Anthony Mackie as Major Bowman Caruso. An underling agent to Morgan, Grant is always nervous around his hothead boss, but he’s the guy who provides the vital information and thus propels the plot forward. In contrast, Bowman is an Army intelligence officer, one of handful “minutemen,” whose service and former working relationship with Jerry’s brother Ethan may hold the key to the whole mystery

It’s too bad that the story was in development for five or six years, during which major technological innovations, such as cells, were developed, adopted and integrated in our everyday lives quite rapidly, in fact much faster than our absorption of new ideas or values. Indeed, what was sci-fi and stretching credibility half a decade ago is now mainstream reality for us. Besides, there have been several, quite decent thrillers (New Line’s “Cellular,” Joel Schumacher’s “Phone Booth”), which have used cells and other new technical commodities as narrative premise or plot gimmicks.

Hence, once the basic situations and premises are set, the narrative declines in energy, and the second half of the film, which becomes more of an actioner than a paranoia thriller, is rather generic and predictable, containing all the requisite escapes, chase scenes, bombs and explosions.

Strangely, producer Kurtzman sees his generic approach as a plus, noting that, “it makes the film timeless, because the characters could be in any time period, and the audience can relate to them no matter when or where they’re from. They’re just ordinary people thrown into a totally extraordinary circumstance way beyond their control, forced to do things they don’t understand and have to find out why they have been chosen as the movie goes along which the audience does along with them.”

What Kurtzman and the other filmmakers seem to have ignored is that it’s the grounding of the narrative in a particular, contemporary time and place, in terms of politics, technical gadgetry, and ideas, that make these pictures truly scary, thrilling, and relevant.

End Note

“Eagle Eye” would have been a better picture if Spielberg helmed it. Originally, Spielberg intended to direct the film himself, but he then changed course to focus on other projects, specifically the large-scale action adventure “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which turned out to be one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters with over $315 million in domestic grosses, a figure that “Eagle Eye” has no chance of even approximating.


Jerry – Shia LaBeouf
Rachel – Michelle Monaghan
Zoe – Rosario Dawson
Defense Secretary Callister – Michael Chiklis
Major William Bowman – Anthony Mackie
Agent Thomas Morgan – Billy Bob Thornton
Ranim – Anthony Azizi
Sam – Cameron Boyce


A DreamWorks/Paramount release of a DreamWorks Pictures presentation of a K/O production. Produced by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Patrick Crowley. Executive producers: Steven Spielberg, Edward McDonnell.
Directed by D.J. Caruso.
Screenplay: John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright, Hillary Seitz, Dan McDermott; story, McDermott.
Camera (Deluxe color), Dariusz Wolski; editor, Jim Page; music, Brian Tyler; production designer, Tom Sanders; art directors, Sean Haworth, Kevin Kavanaugh, Naaman Marshall; set designers, Amy Heinz, Masako Masuda; set decorator, Cindy Carr; costume designer, Marie-Sylvie Deveau; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Kirk Francis; supervising sound editor, Karen Baker Landers, Per Hallberg; visual effects supervisor, Jim Rygiel; special effects coordinator, Peter Chesney; visual effects, Imageworks India, Pixel Playground; special visual effects, Sony Pictures Imageworks; supervising stunt coordinator, Gregg Smrz; associate producer, James Freitag; assistant director, Freitag; second unit director, Brian Smrz; second unit camera, Larry Blanford;

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 116 Minutes.