Eye In The Sky - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
THE moral and ethical complexity of modern warfare is skilfully exposed in Gavin Hood’s Eye In The Sky, which already rates as one of the most important films of our time.
The premise is ripped straight from the headlines, tackling as it does drone strikes and how to effectively combat extremism without doing more damage to the values we are striving to protect.
As the real-time scenario picks up, a group of high priority terrorist targets are convening at a house in Kenya under the watchful eye of Colonel Katherine Powell (Dame Helen Mirren), who is poised to put into play a capture mission.
Things quickly take a more complicated turn, however, when surveillance also reveals the presence of suicide bombers being suited up inside, changing the parameters of the mission from capture to kill. But then a young local girl, aged nine, starts selling bread outside of the house, placing her within any potential blast radius.
The ensuing film switches between Mirren’s command centre, a specially convened meeting of Cobra chaired by Mirren’s superior (Alan Rickman) and including the British attorney general (Richard McCabe), the Vegas control room where the drone pilots led by US pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) are awaiting their orders, and the militant-controlled streets of Nairobi, where operatives on the ground are trying to get more intelligence.
It’s a tense scenario, intelligently played with an eye to ensuring that the various decisions are as accurate as possible. And this is where the film excels.
Far from moralising over the issue itself, the film takes a mostly impartial view that passes responsibility for its ultimate show of loyalty to the viewers themselves. It’s very much for you to decide what the right call is: is the life of one girl worth more than the lives of potentially 80 people or more if the mission is not completed?
Guy Hibbert’s screenplay is also terrific at exposing the arguments for and against, thereby touching on issues such as propaganda, political and legal culpability, social and personal conscience and the emotional cost of war. It’s a moral quagmire and one that capably exposes the complexity of the war against terror.
Hood, for his part, keeps the pace taut without resorting to grand-standing sequences, thereby allowing his actors the chance to shine. Mirren, as ever, excels as the steely Colonel (in a role originally written for a man), remaining resolute when all around her seek to pass the buck, while the likes of Jeremy Northam, Aarol Paul, McCabe and Monica Dolan all weigh in with nuanced performances, as if to underline the taxing nature of their roles.
But special mention deserves to go to Barkhad Abdi (so good in Captain Phillips) as one of the operatives on the ground in Nairobi, whose own safety is continually compromised in a bid to keep the mission alive, as well as to the late, great Alan Rickman, whose final performance offers another wonderful showcase of his remarkable [and much missed] talent.
His Lieutenant General Frank Benson journeys from awkward everyman attempting to buy a children’s present to intelligent and sometimes ruthless manipulator as he manoeuvres the fate of the young girl. And yet, in one of the film’s most striking exchanges, he issues one of its most telling lines: “Never tell a soldier he doesn’t understand the cost of war.” It is a potent line, masterfully delivered, that in one small moment captures all that was great about Rickman’s skill as an actor.
Eye In The Sky therefore rates as essential viewing: difficult, challenging, even sobering… it refuses to let the viewer off the hook. But for anyone with their own eye on current events, it explores issues that cannot and should not be ignored.
Running time: 1hr 42mins
UK Release Date: April 15, 2016