Wrapped up in the red tape of government approvals, delicate country allegiances and proximity casualty reports, Eye In The Sky is a military thriller that will make you chuckle darkly and shake your head at the constant political roadblocks in just one covert operation. Beyond that, the hardest hurdle to get over in this new Gavin Hood film is seeing Alan Rickman in his final role on the big screen. It’s a serious stab in the heart and a reminder of how captivating the iconic British actor was, a treasure that can never and will never be replaced.
As far as the movie’s subject itself, drone warfare, it was something tackled last year in the Andrew Niccol’s film Good Kill with Ethan Hawke, a film I actually enjoyed for the most part, in opposition to my other critic friends. That film featured a drone pilot operating on a base just outside of Las Vegas, carrying out orchestrated attacks on targets across the world in the Middle East, detached from everything. While Niccol’s film tells the one side, exclusively Hawkes’ story, Eye In The Sky is very in depth on all sides for a fully rounded telling of how these missions really go down.
The film opens on Helen Mirren’s character Colonel Katherine Powell, who’s been heading up an investigation on a British citizen operating with a terrorist cell in Nairobi, Kenya. When her intel says that this woman will be in a safe house in the city, she, with the coordination of Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) who is holding down the bureaucracy front, organize a mission designated to capture this terrorist and the Americans working with her.
Back in the United States, on a Las Vegas base (the same as the afore mentioned Good Kill’s setting), drone pilot 2nd Lieutenant Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and his co-pilot Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) operate as the all seeing “eye in the sky:” the visual component to help both governments – as well as the ground forces in Kenya – make this capture a success. With General Benson holed up in London with a group of bickering government officials and the foreign affairs secretary (Iain Glen) constantly on standby it all changes drastically when the capture mission is compromised and instead refocused as a targeted assassination.
This is the point of the film where morality takes a back seat to government relationships, perceived public outcry and windows of opportunity as Colonel Powell sees the investigation of five years possibly go up in smoke as this British-born extremist leader may get to slip away into the ether based on the technicality of jurisdictions. In order to follow through on her goals and get that coveted “mission accomplished” status, she is force to make questionable choices and fudge some numbers to abate the concerns of those who finalized the orders. It, in plain terms, comes down to the value of one life against one hundred, a decision that’s even harder to make when that one life is in plain view in the eye of the hovering, unseen drone.
This film is a very interesting look at the way in which the game has completely changed when it comes to foreign combat techniques and processes. In this first person video game style of combat, man and women are ordered to drop “hellfire” from a comfortable position, just miles away from the bright lights of the Vegas strip by a faceless voice in their ears. These pilots are the major people carrying the fates of these villagers and innocents caught in the crossfire of this fight against terrorism and, in reality, cause terror themselves on these people, which weighs heavily on their conscience. Do you refuse and effectively face court martial and possibly jail time or do you act on your orders like a good soldier? This is a heavy decision that I am very grateful I never have to make.
Director Gavin Hood, who also stars in the film as the pilots’ commanding officer, returns to making a film with a defining and clear message like he did with 2005’s Tsotsi, provoking you to think about both sides of this issue. It’s great to see him in return to work of substance, especially after the big studio debacle of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the lackluster sci-fi adaptation of Ender’s Game. Sure, he took on some of these same themes in the Reese Witherspoon/Jake Gyllenhaal drama Rendition but it wasn’t as well presented and politically shaking as Eye In The Sky.
Is this film groundbreaking or astounding at all? No, but what Eye In The Sky does is show the sometimes radical or heartless and surgical thinking that happens on both sides of this on going war against fear and how much warfare has changed. Rather than making split second life or death choices on the ground, each bomb is dropped through the decisions of a group of elected officials far removed for these situations, some of which have never experienced anything first hand. This is a terrifying notion that makes you very lucky to be in a first world country, safe from the evils that these third world countries deal with every day. I feel like Eye In The Sky is a film that tries to dispel the ignorance on these issues to the general public.
Movie fans are going to really like the well built tension in this film with the great performances from the always fabulous Helen Mirren and the late great Alan Rickman in his last on screen appearance. It was also really great to see Aaron Paul act outside of his usual type casting, shrugging off the junkie characters of Breaking Bad and Triple 9 to play a military man with the wherewithal to actual try and fight for what he believes is right but, ultimately having the full crush of the U.S and U.K. government to shackle him. Great stuff from an actor who is really just getting started. Eye In The Sky was a great thriller that had me on the edge of my seat a couple times and I give it a four out of five.