EYE IN THE SKY (UK/12A/102mins)
Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Phoebe Fox, Barkhad Abdi.
THE PLOT: Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in charge of a routine surveillance operation in the UK, with the drone pilots based in the US as part of a joint operation. With government Minsters watching the operation’s every move, events become complicated when a bomb plot is discovered and a young girl enters the kill zone.
THE VERDICT: Alan Rickman’s final live action role could not be less different than the ones we came to know and love him for. Far from a villain, Rickman’s performance of Lt. General Frank Benson shows that the true villain in ‘Eye in the Sky’ is fear, and those who perpetrate it.
Helen Mirren also takes on an unusual role, as the Colonel in charge of making tough decisions. Mirren makes Powell a pragmatic woman, with more consideration for the lives of the many than those of the few. Rickman is on splendid form as a no-nonsense army officer, and the two are joined on screen by Aaron Paul as a drone pilot, Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Northam, Barkhad Abdi, Richard McCabe and Kim Engelbrecht.
Guy Hibbert’s screenplay ties together the many elements of this operation, that takes an unexpected turn. The choices made in the UK, the US, China and Kenya affect the lives of potentially dozens of people, but Hibbert makes sure that the drone’s physical removal from the space does not mean that these soldiers and ministers are not emotionally engaged with what is happening on the ground. Unlike Ethan Hawke’s drone thriller from last year – ‘Good Kill’ – the events of the film focus on one potential drone strike, and the consequences of that action. The people on the ground have no idea that across the world, politicians and solders are deciding their fates, and it is this that makes the film so engaging, as well as the underlying question of whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. As well as this, there are some lovely and subtle symmetries drawn, such as Rickman’s character buying a doll for a young girl about the same age as the one he finds himself deciding the fate of.
Director Gavin Hood ramps up the tension throughout the film, with characters drifting in and out of the danger zone, without ever realising the danger they are in. The audience mostly watch from afar, as those in charge of the big decisions do, but unlike the ones making the choices, we are emotionally invested in the fates of those on the ground, and find ourselves rooting for fate to intervene. In fact, making fate the biggest villain of the piece is the way in which the film succeeds in being so gripping; control is taken from the people making the tough choices over and over again, with no simple answers being provided.
In all, ‘Eye in the Sky’ is a gripping thriller that puts the audience in the room with those making the difficult decisions, and on the ground with those likely to be affected. Mirren, Rickman and Paul shine through in a strong cast and although there are no simple answers here, ‘Eye in the Sky’ does its best in showing every angle to be considered. Also, Rickman’s final scathing line is a delight.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Eye in the Sky
Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    The changing nature of modern warfare is the key theme of South African director Gavin Hood’s new film Eye In The Sky, which takes a withering look at how key decisions are made at a time of crisis.

    Nairobi, Kenya. Militant fanatical group Al-Shabab are gathered in a house, plotting their next act of terrorism. Included in the group are British and American converts. Nearby, little girl Alia (Aisha Takow) is playing and also selling bread on the street outside. Elsewhere in the world, people are watching closely. In a bunker in London, Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) is spearheading a joint US-British-Kenyan operation to capture and arrest the key leaders of the group. In Whitehall, Lieutenant General Benson (Alan Rickman) is gathered with Minister Woodale (Jeremy Northam), who will apparently make the decision to go in. In Las Vegas, drone pilot Steve (Aaron Paul) and his co-pilot Carrie (Phoebe Gershon) watch overhead awaiting further orders. Man-on-the-ground Jama (Barkhad Abdi) gets surveillance from inside the house, which confirms Al-Shabab’s plans to detonate suicide bombers. Powell wants to strike the house with a missile. As Alia enters the killzone, the situation becomes fraught and nobody involved with the operation wants to make a decision to launch…

    With a story that unfolds in real time over the course of 90 minutes, Eye In The Sky is a probing dissection of the chain of military command and how decisions are made which result in collateral damage. Powell reasons that killing everyone in the house will prevent the suicide bombers killing 80 or more people in a shopping centre. The ‘fatal injury’ of a little girl is the price to pay for that. Can the life of one child be balanced against the lives of many other children and adults? Others involved disagree, including Steve who is ultimately the one will pull the trigger – even if he’s just following orders.

    It’s a moral quandary at the heart of this intelligent and consistently gripping wartime thriller. Hood wrings as much tension as he can out of Guy Hibbert’s screenplay, as Minister Woodale passes the buck onto another Minister (Iain Glen) and then he passes it on to the Prime Minister. Apart from Jama, everyone else is based somewhere else in the world and is watching remotely. Removed from the front-line, they can sit in their seats with coffee and biscuits and watch events unfold without really feeling the immediate repercussions on the ground (as Benson perceptively points out). If there are unobserved participants, it’s the audience. We’re as much a part of the situation as the characters.

    An excellent cast bring these conflicted characters to life. Mirren brings steely determination and a sense of frustration at higher-ups making key decisions, Paul the conscience of the group and the late Rickman, in his final on-screen role, a dry and wholly real sense of humour about the absurdity of the whole situation. Shouldn’t real soldiers confront their enemies head-on and not be watching at a safe and removed distance? Even periphery characters are weighed into the debate, as one soldier is under pressure from Powell to revise his estimates about collateral damage. There are no easy answers here and nobody is let off the hook. As the credits roll, we wonder what decisions we the audience would make in this situation. With sterling direction, this is Hood’s best film since Tsotsi. Eye In The Sky is also the best of the recent series of films about military drones and their usage in modern warfare. It comes highly recommended and is not to be missed. ****

  • emerb

    Director Gavin Hood brings us “Eye In The Sky”, a suspenseful, topical drama about drone warfare in which people must face difficult choices and consequences, nothing is simple or clean cut and there is no “right” or “wrong”. On the surface, it is a grim, nail-biting thriller but it is also an intelligent examination of the moral aspects of war and the use of drones etc. The film moves back and forth across four continents while detailing the details of one particular multinational military mission involving British commanders, politicians, a Las Vegas-based drone pilot, Kenyan Special Forces personnel, and Somali terrorists who meet in a safe house. The core of the movie centres on one question – Do you sacrifice a cute little 9-year-old-girl who is selling bread to save hundreds of people from a potential terrorist bombing? We witness the agonising decision-making required to pull a single trigger and the enormous effects on everybody involved. A series of events and unpredictable human behaviour repeatedly threatens this highly sophisticated and critical operation.

    Helen Mirren is Col. Powell, the hard-edged commander heading a complex international anti-terrorism operation. After 6 years, her team has finally located a radicalized Englishwoman (Lex King) most recently responsible for a horrific shopping-mall bombing in Nairobi who is collaborating with terrorists. With the support of the Kenyan government, there are plans to capture her alive with her American boyfriend, as well as another terrorist on the most-wanted list. Things
    change however, when onsite operatives, who are able to fly a tiny drone into the target house, shows two Somali terrorists preparing explosive vests for an imminent suicide attack. Powell, with the support of Lt. Gen. Benson (the late Alan Rickman), proposes an unmanned-drone bombing strike on the safe house. Problem is that she lacks the authority to kill a British citizen but Senior British officials are horrified and nervously refer the new decision all the way up the chain of command. Powell has enlisted the help of a fresh-faced American drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) whose mission is not to engage militarily but merely to track her target’s movements in Nairobi. When he notices that a little girl (Aisha Takow) has begun selling bread just outside the safe house, the mission becomes even more complex. What are the chances that collateral damage will kill the girl and is saving the life of a single person worth risking death for dozens of others? The resolution to the dilemma doesn’t come easily
    but a decision is finally made and it is unclear who will bear the brunt of the outcome but such is the horror of war.

    Quality acting all around, the ensemble cast is top notch across the board. Mirren is reliably stern as the tough-as-nails Powell, who’s committed to accomplishing her mission but also aware of the politics involved and the potential for tragedy in finally achieving success. Rickman brings his unique blend of irony and empathy to the compromised Benson and reminds us that he was a truly versatile actor capable of handling a variety of roles with ease. Aaron Paul has limited screen time but it’s refreshing to see him in a role such as this and. He gives us a good insight into his character’s inner turmoil and continues to expand beyond Breaking Bad. As an undercover agent, Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”) gives a standout performance, both engaging and intense.

    “Eye In The Sky” is terrific, it gives us the best elements of both a drama and a thriller, managing to both excite and inform. It raises timely questions about military strategies and political agendas. Combining a gripping story with a moral backdrop, it is the kind of intelligent, thought provoking film that really engages
    me. The tension doesn’t let up – can the terrorists be stopped, will the girl move out of the danger zone? Good critical reviews, enthusiastic word of mouth and superb performances from a well-chosen cast should ensure solid prospects at the box office. For me, it stands way above the typical big screen movie you would expect at this time of the year and you would be very very foolish to miss it.