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The Man Who Knew Too Little

A Wronged Man And Woman Are Cornered Into Terrorism In This Hitchcokian Thriller

Shia Labeouf and Michelle Monaghan Count On Their Nights and Weekends Minutes.

By Cole Haddon | Posted 9/24/2008

Actor Shia LaBeouf is the best thing that ever happened to director DJ Caruso. After three flops at the box office that should have destroyed most careers, including the Al Pacino ham-fest Two for the Money, he landed the Disney Channel graduate for his Rear Window knockoff, Disturbia, and suddenly his movie budgets skyrocketed--which is how Eagle Eye came to be. Also starring LaBeouf, Caruso's latest isn't like anything Alfred Hitchcock ever made (it's much too loud for that), but it does offer clear evidence that Caruso learned almost everything he knows about storytelling from the Master. Pay special attention to the way he focuses the camera on a hidden explosive, literally making it the center of attention amid so much other action; Hitchcock used the same trick several times, most famously Suspicion's glass of poisoned milk. Eagle Eye is also about an innocent man on the run from mysterious forces he doesn't understand, which drives some of Hitch's greatest movies. It might be heresy to suggest, but, if Hitchcock were alive today, dealing with the bloated budgets the quest for opening-weekend box office necessitates, it's likely he'd have to make something like Eagle Eye. The fact that Caruso manages to pull this trick off, without completely succumbing to the Michael Bay habit of destroying things so fast you can't tell what the hell is happening, is a credit to the filmmaker--though he does come close to such overkill.

LaBeouf, a boy-man who has yet to really figure out how to pull off being a leading man, stars as slacker Jerry Shaw. Jerry's underachieving comes from his belief that he'll never be as smart, ambitious, or successful as his twin brother, Ethan--who just so happens to have just been killed by a bus. Still grieving from the loss of a sibling he hadn't even spoken to in two years, Jerry returns home to find his shitty box of an apartment packed to the ceiling with crates of plane schematics, weapons, explosives, and ammonium nitrate. His cell phone rings: The FBI is on its way, get out. But Jerry balks and is arrested.

It is obviously some sort of mistake, right? He can't believe someone has mistaken him for a terrorist, and he doesn't know where any of that stuff in his apartment came from. FBI investigator Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton) isn't buying it, but the cell that set Jerry up seems to have Big Brother-grade capabilities--think of what you saw in Enemy of the State, but worse--and, in an impressively thrilling sequence, helps him escape. Even as the FBI pursues him on foot, Jerry is driven by his cell-phone handler, an always-calm female voice, to get into an SUV driven by equally confused and manipulated Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan)--a woman whose young son will be killed if she doesn't cooperate.

What follows is an exhaustive, nonstop race to comply with whatever the cell-phone voice tells them to do. If they slow down, even for a moment, Rachel's son will die, and Jerry . . . well, it's never quite clear what he stands to lose. Obviously, he wants his freedom back, but becoming a terrorist, which is what it appears the voice wants him to do, doesn't seem the way to do it. Don't pay too much attention to motivation; Caruso is no more interested in story feasibility than Hitchcock was and only wants you to grab the arms of your seat. He succeeds.

Ultimately, Eagle Eye suffers from being little more than an unrealistic techno-thriller gussied up as a cautionary tale about surrendering your rights in the name of security, but the ride is too much fun to dismiss as unworthy. Note a luggage- and package-processing hub sequence, a brilliantly shot and edited cat-and-mouse game along conveyor belts, that would have been right at home in North by Northwest. Too bad Caruso had to tack a studio ending on the story, that, if played as dark as first suggested, could have left a much more lasting impression.

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