Spunky Shia LaBeouf Humanizes Transformers Robot Drama

By , Columnist

Paramount Pictures

Shia LaBeouf stars with Rose Huntington-Whiteley in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Shia LaBeouf does not resemble most of his perfectly chiseled peers who star in blockbuster popcorn movies. Unlike Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Cooper, or Robert Pattinson, the unconventionally handsome character actor who's bulldozed his way into leading man roles through sheer talent seems more like his generation's Dustin Hoffman.

There's a reason that Steven Spielberg picked LaBeouf to revive the Indiana Jones franchise opposite Harrison Ford, and three reasons that Paramount Pictures can thank LaBeouf for putting a human face on one of the studio's most lucrative movie franchises.

In Transforrmers: Dark of the Moon, opening Wednesday, LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky gives audiences an accessible, athletic Every Schmuck to root for in between the gargantuan robot-from-outerspace smackdowns.

To paraphrase from Lou Grant's appraisal of Mary Tyler Moore, Shia LaBeouf has got spunk, and audiences dig it.

I've chatted with LaBeouf a few times, dating back to his very first movie Battle of Shaker Heights. Dressed in baggy jeans, the scrawny 17-year-old cheerfully told me about his dysfunctional family upbringing in a seedy Los Angeles neighborhood and explained how he got his first auditions by going through the yellow pages and calling every producer in town pretending, over the phone, to be his own agent.

Sitting in a posh hotel room, LaBeouf said, "This is all new to me. I never slept before in a double bed like that, you know? And I have cool little gadgets that I never had. Personal computer. Perrier water. It's trippy. I'm a kid from Echo Park who got kicked out of school. This is not what I'm used to. But I'm getting used to it, and it's fun."

By the time he'd made his first Transformers movie six years later, LaBeouf had grown biceps the size of hams. He smoked, he drank, he swore, and he succinctly explained director Michael Bay's drill seargent approach to action movie making. "When you're dangling off of a rooftop with your feet on fire and a helicopter is spinning underneath you and you're seconds away from death, you don't want some auteur director to come up and go, 'Let's talk about your emotional history.' No! You want the dude who's like, 'Shia's seconds away from death! Get your camera and show a little skil!. Boom! Go!' Michael's like General Patton, the sickest director on the planet."


LaBeouf is no angel, nor does he pretend to be. Off-screen antics include a 2007 drugstore confrontation in Chicago, 2007's traffic accident when LaBeouf's pickup truck flipped and crushed his left hand, and a drunken bar fight in February.

But here's what it comes down to. LaBeouf is smart, funny, refreshingly uncensored, and convincing even in the most outlandish tentpole movie moments. During Transformers: Dark of the Moon, LaBeouf, as Witwicky, stares at an empty green screen that would later be filled in with a digitally created 40-foot robot. His best friend, the alien Optimus Prime, is on the verge of collapse. Amid the artifice, La Beouf manages to shed a tear that streams down his cheek. Ladies and gentlemen - that's what we call acting.

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Los Angeles-based writer/musician Hugh Hart covers movies, television, design, art and miscellaneous slices of pop culture for publications including Wired Magazine, Los Angeles Times and New York Times. When he's not interviewing people like Quentin Tarantino or Lindsay Lohan, Hugh likes to glug blackā€¦

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