Sunday, March 8, 2009

Eagle Eye -- the tyranny of technology

Director: D.J. Caruso, 2008.

After the 2007 hit Disturbia, Caruso and star Shia LaBeouf teamed up again in this intense Orwellian thriller. Although the plot is thin, the action is thick and fast-paced, and it raises issues around technology and compliance.

Technology is front dead center in the opening prologue set in the Middle-East. An unmanned drone plane is launched so the military can eavesdrop on a convoy containing suspected terrorists. Using satellite imagery and cell phone tapping, the military intelligence's computers recount a 51% probability that this is the man they are hunting. When it appears that they are going to a funeral in a remote village, a quick decision must be made. Is it the hunted? Are they willing to take the chance and destroy the village? The Defense Secretary (Michael Chiklis) says no, fearing massive collateral damage and even worse political fallout. The President overrules. Missiles are deployed. Technology has given the information but a human has made the decision.

Cut to the US. LaBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, a quick-talking and smart slacker with an aversion to authority, who dropped out of Stanford and is now a copy boy with little cash. When his over-achieving twin brother dies in a car accident, Shaw's life is changed dramatically, not by the event itself but by an anonymous caller.

When Shaw goes to deposit a check in an ATM machine, he sees his balance as almost a million dollars! Spooked by this, he finds his apartment full of weapons and military secrets. He is being set up to look like a terrorist and a traitor. At that moment, he gets a call from a woman telling him, "Jerry Shaw, you have been activated. Your compliance is vital." She goes on to let him know he has less than a minute before the FBI arrive to arrest him, and concludes, "Disobey, and you die."

Eagle Eye Publicity StillIgnoring her orders, he waits and is arrested. He finds himself in a cell being interrogated by Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton). He is in deep trouble. But when he is given his one call, the outgoing call is intercepted by this mysterious woman who tells him to get down so she can maneuver his escape. He has no choice but to obey.

Meanwhile, single mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan, Gone Baby Gone) has packed her son off on a train to DC where his school is going to perform. Like Shaw, she too gets a strange phone call. This same woman tells her to drive a strange Porsche else her son will die. And like Shaw, she is put in a position of compliance through coercion.

When Shaw is sprung from the FBI and gets in the Porsche, these two strangers begin an adventure that takes them across the country to DC, via cars, buses, and planes. initial car chase is thrilling, with Holloman being instructed precisely how to drive by the female caller. This strange woman can control the traffic signals and can even remotely take over the cruise control. Escaping death by last minute turns and assists from robotic cranes, it seems there is nowhere that Shaw and Holloman can run or turn to evade whoever is behind their plight. They don't even know what is expected of them. It is a moment by moment journey to who knows where.

With Agent Morgan joined by Air Force Investigator Perez (Rosario Dawson) on their tail, Shaw and Holloman barely stay ahead and alive. In some ways, this cat and mouse hunt is reminiscent of The Fugitive, with Tommy Lee Jones on the trail of Harrison Ford, another innocent caught up in a conspiracy. Eagle Eye Publicity StillBut this movie is not in that league. There is no real chemistry between the two leads, and their characters are paper-thin. The plot is so full of holes that only the presence of the rapid-fire action causes the viewer to suspend disbelief and put all questions on hold. Such as could they really outwit and outfight Morgan? How could they do all that they did without shock kicking in? Why were these two picked seemingly at random? And in the climax in DC, how could Shaw possibly survive? But, hey, this is Hollywood.

The tyranny of technology is the central theme of Eagle Eye. With the mysterious woman caller controlling security cameras, cell phones and computer accounts, she knows all there is to know about Shaw, Holloman and others pushed into service. As in George Orwell's 1984 Big Brother, or is it Big Sister, is watching them.

In a ZDNet article of Dec 2006, it is reported that the FBI is indeed using cell phones as "roving bugs" with the approval of the US Department of Justice. Apparently cell phone microphones can be remotely activated, even with the cell phone turned off, to monitor conversations. Moreover, cities such as London have surveillance cameras positioned so that virtually every part can be remotely viewed. It is a small step to all this technology being used against the citizens it is supposed to protect. So, as in The Dark Knight, where Batman crosses the moral line to use all of Gotham's cell phones as a way to listen on for the Joker and then triangulate to find his position, the cell phones controlled here by the unseen voice are apparently feasible. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before the technology that is supposed to be our friend will become our foe.

The other main issue at hand is that of compliance. Shaw and Holloman have to comply to save lives. But this compliance is coerced, it is not voluntary. As Christ-followers, Jesus desires our compliance. He told his disciples, " If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15). But his is an easy yoke (Matt. 11:30), and he wants our voluntary, moment-by-moment compliance. If we learn to hear the still, small voice of God, the Holy Spirit, we will learn to hear directions, sometimes specific, like Shaw and Holloman. Some believers have reported this kind of guidance. To get more requires compliance.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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