starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Gael García Bernal
screenplay by Don McKellar, based on the novel by José Saramago
directed by Fernando Meirelles
starring Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Billy Bob Thornton
screenplay by John Glenn & Travis Adam Wright and Hillary Seitz and Dan McDermott
directed by D.J. Caruso
by Walter Chaw Brazilian wunderkind Fernando Meirelles has the one-trick pony and he's beaten its corpse for all the slickefied, electrified, vaguely exploitive prestige pieces he's made his calling card since City of God exploded into the loving arms of the arthouse. His latest, Blindness, feels like just another stroll down the same moralizing path as the residents of some generic city go blind, with only the bleary, red-rimmed eyes of Julianne Moore left as the moral barometer and literal/spiritual guide. And like his stable of reliable steeds, Blindness reveals itself at the end as having nothing much to say beyond the Lord of the Flies truism that men left to their own devices are no better than animals. Moore's an unnamed dingbat housewife fond of drinking a little too much wine and tittering around the limited orbit of her optometrist husband (Mark Ruffalo). When The Doctor (none of the characters have names, because the movie is profound) encounters a Patient (Yusuke Iseya) who has gone spontaneously blind, it's not long before the typical end-of-times plague starts the high-concept hullabaloo in earnest. Soon, The Doctor and The Wife find themselves in the Spooky Deserted Hospital that The City uses as The Quarantine Ward, though more literary-minded viewers will choose to refer to it as The Microcosm.
The problem with Blindness is Meirelles's bad habit of making a terrible hash of something already done with more eloquence by things like 28 Weeks Later and, hell, even Day of the Triffids, reaching into this moldering grab bag of hooks and coming up with a ponderous, udder-heavy movie scientifically formulated to be good for you. But what messages does Blindness teach? The Wife feigns sightlessness so that she can go into quarantine with The Doctor and, because it serves the allegory to do so, fails to become blind as the hospital grows increasingly crowded, until finally it's revealed that The Wife might, in fact, be the last sighted person in the world.
While the version of this picture screened at Cannes featured homey narration from Danny Glover's One-Eyed Sage character, the cut I saw, thankfully, did not: any grace native to Meirelles's occasionally lovely visual compositions is owed to its not being talked over--though, in truth, I wouldn't have minded something else to be snarky about. Gael García Bernal plays the leader of a different quarantine ward who, essentially, breaks Piggy's glasses, steals the conch, and parcels out the POME's ration of food in return for first jewellery, then sexual favours. I'd like to say that it's powerful stuff when this little monarch gets his dick sucked by Mother Teresa, but really, it's nothing shocking because it's neither shown nor unexpected. Of all the things the picture suffers from (its lack of point, its lack of insight, its lack of poetry, its lack of smarts), it's a certain cowardice to follow through on the ugliness of its premise and to give these characters a moment of wholly unearned grace that sink the entire fucking ship. The film isn't about moral relativism, it's about not understanding the question.
Where Blindness just goes after a couple of genre templates to say something jarringly obvious, D.J. Caruso's hysterical, preposterous Eagle Eye soup-bones together everything from The Manchurian Candidate to 2001: A Space Odyssey to Se7en to Transformers to, for one weird moment, Cronenberg's The Dead Zone. It has, needless to say, not one clue as to what it's doing, which of course doesn't prevent it from doing it anyway. Spoilers ahead, what the hell, idiots who go to this aren't going for the plot, am I right? HAL-clone defense computer goes nuts (also WarGames, The Terminator, Hardware, Demon Seed, Event Horizon, Short Circuit, The Iron Giant, and so on) and tries to kill the chain of succession by "activating" civilians Jerry (Shia LeBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) and empowering them with godlike powers by taking over every computer on-line system (Live Free or Die Hard) at its disposal. An awfully fuddy-duddy, Luddite opus in the vein of Firewall (which, if memory serves, made iPods instruments of the devil), Eagle Eye doesn't even have the wit to better the lip-reading sequence from 2001 before it goes off the rails completely in a duel-to-the-death between two military drones and a giant metal robot ball (12 Monkeys).
As ridiculous as the film itself to punch holes in the howlers embedded herein (like the part where the Iranian guy gets killed by a high-tension wire), better to leave it with the observation that it's another 2008 film, the third by my count, with a semi-trailer flipped during a chase sequence that speaks, if you want to stretch it, to the oil crisis--and the second (after Get Smart) that has a musical note as the trigger for a bomb. The action is impossible to follow because it's shot and cut by epileptic monkeys and because, like Blindness, it doesn't have any balls; nobody you give a shit about dies. A lot like Shooter, another repugnant, mentally-challenged liberal screed, it ends with a spoken coda that says, in essence, sometimes (wait for it) the things we employ to protect liberty threaten it instead. Saving grace? The morons going to Eagle Eye are the ones who would most benefit from that message in spoon-fed form. Originally published: October 1, 2008.