The first thing you need to know about Eagle Eye—the new techno-paranoid thriller starring Shia LaBeouf and directed by D.J. Caruso, who previously collaborated on last year's teenaged Rear Window wanna-be Disturbia—is that it is absolutely, completely preposterous. LaBeouf plays a young man named Jerry Shaw, whose life is hijacked one day when items show up at his apartment that make him seem like a terrorist, and he begins receiving mysterious phone calls from a woman whose directions for escaping the cops are perfectly timed to coincide with out-of-control cranes and moving trains. Even when Jerry loses his cell phone, the woman is able to reach him on another phone that happens to belong to a complete stranger.

But the movie is not simply preposterous because it lays out such an over-the-top vision of a world in which anyone with access to "the grid" can flawlessly manipulate an innocent man's life. The film is preposterous even on its own terms.

Shia LaBeouf as Jerry Shaw

Shia LaBeouf as Jerry Shaw

For one thing, the woman at the other end of the phone ends up manipulating things that she really shouldn't have any access to. (When high-voltage power lines begin falling from a tower, to punish someone down below, you wonder if the woman or her people placed remote-control detonators up there in advance, and how they knew where the person being punished would be standing.) Smart people who discover that "the grid" has been compromised make cell phone calls to warn each other anyway—calls that are immediately jammed, of course. And it turns out the woman has been pulling all these strings in the most contrived manner possible simply to kill certain people who really should have been a whole lot easier to reach. I mean, when the movie's villain can get a fighter pilot out of the way by activating his ejector seat via remote control, you can only assume there would have been much, much easier ways to get rid of certain other people, too.

But if you have a taste for this sort of nonsense, then all this hyper-implausibility is actually kind of fun. I wouldn't exactly call it suspenseful; just as, say, Paycheck was a non-suspenseful film because we knew that Ben Affleck had foreseen everything and given himself a way out in each and every case, so, too, Eagle Eye is the sort of film in which the forces manipulating Jerry's life seem so absolutely in-control that we don't really sit on the edge of our seats, so much as we sit back and wait to see how everything will be explained. Is Jerry nervous and terrified for his life? Heck yeah. But we, sitting outside his life and watching it—at times through the same security cameras that the woman uses—can sense that no task she gives him will be impossible. Somehow, he will always be able to do what she tells him to do.

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Michelle Monaghan as Rachel

Michelle Monaghan as Rachel

Of course, two questions linger, even if they can't really be answered until the final moments of the film: Why does the woman want Jerry to do all these things, and will he ever get control of his life back? And it's not just Jerry whose life is on the line. The woman has also contacted Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a divorced mother, and threatened to harm her boy, who is away on a band trip, if Rachel does not follow yet another set of directions. Jerry and Rachel are thus thrown together and forced to outrace police cars at high speed, rob a security truck, dodge federal agents through the baggage-sorting machinery at an airport, and so on.

For their part, the feds, led by Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), think that Jerry and Rachel are willing accomplices to whatever terrorist organization is pulling the strings. But one agent, Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson), is taken to the Pentagon, where the Secretary of Defense (Michael Chiklis) lets her in on a big, big secret.

Billy Bob Thornton as Morgan

Billy Bob Thornton as Morgan

At this point, the film doesn't exactly shift gears—it still has chases and gadgets and all manner of vehicular mayhem, padded out by occasional moments of "character development" that somehow always feel like filler—but it does raise the political stakes while adding to the cheesiness of its premise. And while I would love to say more about that premise, I can't, for fear it would be saying too much.

The political element, however, is hinted at in the film's prologue, well before we even meet the main characters. The film begins with a bunch of Defense Department types sitting in a room in Washington, D.C. and scanning, by remote, the faces and voices of some people in Pakistan. The computer says there is only a 51 percent probability that the people there are the terrorists that they are looking for, but the President, speaking by phone, orders a strike anyway. We later hear that this attack, which hit some innocent people, has sparked outrage in the Muslim world and a series of reprisals. So the film taps into our fears of electronic surveillance, and government abuse of the information gleaned that way, right from its opening scenes.

But what about the woman who has been pulling Jerry's and Rachel's strings? Is she with the government? Is she against the government? The answer turns out to be a little more complicated than you might think, which could be good for stimulating a post-screening discussion of the movie's themes. But it is also so out-there, so ridiculously fanciful, that you might feel a bit guilty for taking the movie so seriously.

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Still, if you have a taste for outlandish thrillers that ask interesting questions, and which celebrate human freedom at its most self-sacrificial, then this is a reasonable enough diversion.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Do you feel safer, or less safe, knowing that security cameras are everywhere and records of all your transactions are out there somewhere?
  2. What does this film have to say about free will? How do characters in this film get their freedom back, after they have been manipulated by these other forces? What role does sacrifice play in asserting their freedom?
  3. What would a Christian approach to authority be like? Should citizens ever overthrow their government? Why or why not? What about the quotes that appear in the film, from the American Founding Fathers, to the effect that they should?
  4. Some of the film's premises, such as the idea that the government can eavesdrop on us through the microphones on our phones even when they are hung up, have been spread by Christian end-times theorists concerned about the rise of the Antichrist. Is there a place for paranoia in Christian thought? How can we distinguish between legitimate concerns and not-so-legitimate concerns?
  5. Is it okay to discuss the pressing political questions of the day through a genre film such as this one? Do films like this make these issues more accessible or relevant to people, or do they cheapen or exploit the issues? Discuss.

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Eagle Eye is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence (including lots of wrecked cars, a few wrecked planes, several gunshots, a man vaporized by a falling power line, etc.), and for language (about a dozen four-letter words, a name taken in vain once or twice).

What other Christian critics are saying:

Eagle Eye
Our Rating
2 Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(1 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
Not Rated (for intense sequences of action and violence, and for language)
Directed By
D.J. Caruso
Run Time
1 hour 58 minutes
Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson
Theatre Release
September 26, 2008 by DreamWorks SKG
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