(Movie Review by Richard Lewis) Shia LaBeouf is a very confident young actor, and for good reason. At the ripe young age of 20, LaBeouf has already amassed a huge body of work. “Constantine” opposite Keanu Reeves, “Holes” with Sigourney Weaver, and “Charlie’s Angeles: Full Throttle”, just to name a few. LaBeouf first caught my attention opposite Will Smith in the underrated but nonetheless enjoyable “I Robot”. You might remember him as the cocky kid who leads a riot against the robots trying to enforce a cybernetic martial law. Fun stuff, indeed. LaBeouf will soon return to a sci-fi special effects spectacle in the upcoming “Transformers”, directed by action maestro Michael Bay.
In person, LaBeouf is unassuming. He seems like your average college-age kid. “I live in a two-bedroom. I drive a Nissan. I live a pretty normal life.” LaBeouf smiles a lot. He also drops the f-bomb as casually as a sailor on shore leave. His confidence borders on cockiness, but behind all that boisterous, barely-past-teen bravado, LaBeouf has these big, kind, expressive eyes. Eyes that were apparently made for spying on the neighbors. Or at least that is what the filmmakers of “Disturbia” would have us believe.
LaBeouf plays Kale, a typical teen who does typical teen things: playing video games, surfing the net, eating junk food, and of course, spying on the hot girl next door (newcomer Sarah Roemer). Kale has a pretty good excuse for going stir crazy. After punching out his teacher, he is stuck in his home on house arrest, complete with a GPS tracking anklet that will alert the cops if he wanders more than 100 feet from the domicile. In his defense, Kale has had a rough go of it. His dad was killed in a car crash a year ago and his well meaning but doting mom (Carrie-Ann Moss) gets on his nerves. So, yeah, he does spy, and it is creepy, but what the hell, he’s bored.
Like Roemer, another relative newcomer is Aaron Yoo (Ronnie), Kale’s partner in crime. Yoo plays your typical comic relief, and the buddy who will most certainly end up in peril. Yoo is likeable in the role, in which he spends most of his screentime running a video camera. Yoo put the camcorder to other good uses by making a behind the scenes video diary of the cast and crew that the actor hopes will be included in the DVD release of “Disturbia”.
So the two hormone-influenced boys get caught spying on the lovely Ashley (Roemer). It seems director D.J. Caruso (“The Salton Sea”) had just as much fun playing the voyeur, as his camera took in many provocative shots of Roemer, especially emphasizing her perfectly formed glutes.
LaBeouf defends his director and his character: “We’re all voyeurs. Everyone in this room is a voyeur. If you read People magazine, you’re a voyeur. If you watch reality TV, you’re a voyeur.”
Well, I must say that comparing reading People to using home surveillance equipment to spy on your neighbors is a stretch; but okay, I get his point.
“I would never sign on for a normal ‘teen thriller.’ This movie leaves room for the imagination to mind-(f-bomb) you,” says LaBeouf.
It turns out Ashley does not mind the boys’ attention. Truth be told, she is probably aware of it anyway, and is working those glutes while swimming just to tease them. So instead of objecting, she ends up joining in on the spying. Of course a romance with Kale also forms along the way. Anyway, it is all good fun until the kids realize there is something deadly going on with one enigmatic neighbor: the mysterious Mr. Turner, played by the indelible David Morse.
LaBeouf has benefited from working with some of Hollywood’s best talent, but he says starring opposite Morse was unforgettable. “David Morse is one of the finest character actors we have working today. And he really is that tall. He is so focused, it is scary.”
I agree with LaBeouf completely here. David Morse excels, whether playing the bad guy, as in the excellent “16 Blocks” with Bruce Willis, or the good guy, as in “The Green Mile” opposite Tom Hanks. Morse delivers, and the tension is almost unbearable each time he appears on screen, coming across as more a force of nature than an actor.
LaBeouf says Morse was so focused it was unnerving. “He never talked to me or Sarah during the filming, which really added to the tension. By the end of the film, I really did want to fight him.”
Speaking of which, there is an incredible climactic fight scene in “Disturbia”. In fact, it is perhaps the most effectively staged fight scene I have ever seen on film. Hats off to Caruso and the actors, because you really feel like you are in the room with these two guys who are trying to murder each other. David Morse actually broke three fingers during the filming. It is very, very intense.
Carrie-Ann Moss is underused as the stereotypical worried mom. Seriously, after seeing her kick so much ass as Trinity in “The Matrix”, watching her play the damsel-in-distress mommy takes some getting used to. Still, she manages to infuse genuine warmth and sincerity into the role. Since she is a new mom in real life, I am sure some of that motherly love naturally transferred onto the celluloid. I found myself wanting to hug her.
Other than Morse simply owning the screen, “Disturbia” really is Shia LaBeouf’s movie. Caruso says he made the right choice in casting the young star. “Shia is so real. Much of the dialogue he improvised for realism. We are seeing a changing of the guard here in the future of acting.”
Roemer agrees, “Shia is so professional.”
Aaron Yoo says LaBeouf really pushed him to his best performance. “He was so prepared I just had to take the script home at night and really work with it, determined to be just as prepared. Still, he ended up blowing me away, every time.”
Caruso compares LaBeouf to a young John Cusack. I agree. We should continue to expect great things from this fine young actor.
Movies about voyeurism are not new. Hitchcock defined the genre with “Rear Window” in 1954. Caruso succeeds in putting a new spin on the concept, giving us the teen angle. Of course teenager Ricky Fitz (Wes Bentley) also had a wandering camera in the Best Picture of 1999, “American Beauty”, but that film had bigger fish to fry — it went after Suburbia itself. As a film, “Disturbia” is much more concerned about entertainment value than cultural commentary. In that respect, the movie succeeds completely.
D.J. Caruso (director) / Carl Ellsworth (screenplay), Christopher B. Landon (story)
CAST: Shia LaBeouf … Kale
Sarah Roemer … Ashley
Carrie-Anne Moss … Julie
David Morse … Mr. Turner
Aaron Yoo … Ronnie