by Doc Pedrolie
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If you don’t know who Shia Labeouf is, I think you will soon enough. Disturbia, directed by D.J. Caruso, is a prime showcase for this young actor; whose star is definitely on the rise in Hollywood. He’s the centerpiece of the film and drives it from start to finish. Labeouf debuted in the popular kids flick Holes. Since then he’s gone on to starring roles in the second season Project Greenlight movie, The Battle for Shaker Heights, and the critically acclaimed indie film A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints; not to mention small roles in movies like Constantine and I, Robot. You’ll next see him in the summer blockbuster Transformers.
Labeouf plays Kale, an average suburban kid who finds himself under house arrest for the summer. Kale, who recently suffered through a personal tragedy, has been on a downward spiral for some time and the house arrest serves as his bottom. His frustrated Mother, played by Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix, Memento), promptly cancels his iTunes and Xbox accounts, cuts the cord to his TV and demands that he shape up. After some severe media withdrawl, Kale takes to spying on his neighbors. Add in an alluring new neighborhood girl, Ashley, played by Sarah Roemer (The Grudge 2), who moves into the house next door and an all too quiet neighbor, played by David Morse (Down in the Valley, Proof of Life), and you have a kind of Rear Window light. Though, for me, that’s about where the Rear Window comparisons end.
What makes this a wonderful vehicle for Labeouf, and an enjoyable, if average thriller, is Labeouf’s hallmark raw energy and natural charm. He’s shows great skill at shifting fluidly between different shades of a teenage boy’s emotional register. Using that raw energy and natural chamr he’s fast becoming know for, he flits from smart-ass to awkward to stubborn to petulant to cool and back again without stumbling. Also, the film spends an inordinate amount of time on his character, developing and setting up who Kal is and where he’s at in his life. It’s great stuff, a little unusual for a thriller and really doesn’t add to the overall tension of the film, but it provides Labeouf a chance to infuse Kal with a lot more depth that you’d find in the hero of your average teen movie.
There are some questionable moments in Disturbia. The actual thriller aspects of the film in the second half come off a little rushed. You could make an argument that the focus should have been more on the thrills and less on the character set-up, but in the end it’s less a flaw to the film and more a matter of preference. David Morse turns in an expected, but solid performance as the suspected neighbor, Mr. Turner. He could have been used more. The rest of the characters in the film serve, more or less, as window dressing, even Ashley, Kal’s love interest. We get glimpses and innuendo of turbulence in Ashley’s home life, but never get any concrete details. It seems like a missed opportunity to provide dramatic counter-point to Kal’s experience.
Disturbia, directed by D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives, The Salton Sea). Caruso does an able job. He knows his way around a thriller and turns in another above-average effort. He seems to be developing into a less intense version of David Fincher as a director. All in all, he keeps the focus on his star and benefits from the decision. In the end he concocts a decent teen thriller with a strong performance by a young star on the rise that’ll do just fine for matinee or date movie material.
Doc Pedrolie is a screenwriter and film critic in Chicago, IL.
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