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FALL SNEAKS / ON THE SET

Yes, they're watching

Shia LaBeouf goes on the run in 'Eagle Eye' and impresses his colleagues. 'It's fun to see him grow up,' director D.J. Caruso says.

September 07, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Early IN the upcoming tech-thriller "Eagle Eye," a suspected terrorist is in the back seat of an SUV bouncing along a rugged road in Afghanistan as a U.S. spy drone follows it from the skies overhead. The drone detects a cellphone in the car, captures its number and sends it to Washington. Intelligence agents dial the number and, as its owner starts to answer it, they order the camera to snap a photo, which is then transmitted to a distant American command center where a missile attack is being considered.

Even with that kind of eye-popping technology, the world is still complicated: "Is it him?" the officials ask as they study the grainy image and move forward with the airstrike despite their qualms. That's the crux of this DreamWorks film: More technology doesn't necessarily eliminate human error and sometimes it creates a high-definition version of human corruption.

The film, which opens Sept. 26, reteams star Shia LaBeouf with director D.J. Caruso, a tandem that worked together on the 2007 hit "Disturbia," a sort of "Rear Window" for the 21st century with its tense tale of voyeurism and suspicion. If LaBeouf was Jimmy Stewart last time, in “Eagle Eye” he's channeling Cary Grant in his "North by Northwest" man-on-the-run mode. LaBeouf portrays a scruffy, bright underachiever who comes home one afternoon to find his apartment piled high with mail-order weapons and bomb ingredients -- he's been framed as a terrorist and he spends the rest of the film essentially running for his life.

Caruso said he hopes the film is very much of the moment with its web of political intrigue and sleek high-tech sensibility: "To me, the film falls in line with those great 1970s films like 'The Parallax View' and 'Three Days of the Condor,' but with a lot more hardware. It's a big, fun, popcorn movie, there's a lot happening and a lot of thrills, but we have a very strong cast and these themes that are very much a part of the world today."

Caruso said that on a chilly night in February, not far from skid row in downtown Los Angeles. He and his crew were filming a car chase scene, one of many high-adrenaline moments in the movie. Caruso also directed "Two for the Money" with Al Pacino and "Taking Lives" with Angelina Jolie, as well as the critically acclaimed 2002 neo-noir film "The Salton Sea" with Val Kilmer. That latter film was pretty far removed from the big-budget explosions of "Eagle Eye," but Caruso said he hopes this movie doesn't lose its story nuances amid the falling debris.

"What I didn't want to happen is that it got so big with the hardware and the action and the stunts that the people get lost, that it turned into something like a video game. That was my biggest fear. I really wanted to ground it with the actors. In a lot of action films these days, I walk out feeling disappointed about how un-engaged I am. They're great to look at, but they don't stay with you. So we went and got a strong cast, and they bring a real believability to their roles."

The idea for "Eagle Eye" was hatched more than a decade ago by executive producer Steven Spielberg, and when it began picking up momentum about two years ago, Spielberg planned to direct the film himself. He had to pass, though, when another long-percolating project, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," finally came together after a decade and a half. Spielberg was looking for someone else to direct the film and then, as executive producer of "Disturbia," he saw a rough cut of that film and quickly tapped Caruso to make another foray into Hitchcockian territory with "Eagle Eye."

Uneasy feeling

"Eagle EYE" producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who were part of the writing team on "Transformers") said that they found inspiration in the news coverage of the war on terrorism and that exploring the topics left them a bit rattled. "I was gripped by paranoia, believe me," Orci said. Kurtzman added: "The reaction we want is for people to walk out of the theater and look at their cellphone and turn it off."

Writing duties fell to John Glenn, Travis Wright, Hillary Seitz and Dan McDermott, who also gets a story credit. The film presents LaBeouf as Jerry Shaw, who is grappling with the death of his twin brother. Jerry, a college dropout who works in a copy center, is not quite the duplicate of his late brother, who studied parallel algorithms and was a resident genius employed by the Air Force.

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