I wonder if nearly as many people would go to see Eye in the Sky were it not for the fact it is the last chance to see the late Alan Rickman on-screen (excluding a voice turn when Alice heads back to Wonderland) – I don’t know if I would have. And having seen it, I can now say that I would have missed out. This film is a gripping, incredibly tense drama that employs a cast of fantastic actors to explore a burning contemporary issue in an intelligent and captivating way.
The picture, which effectively unfolds in real-time on our screen, deals with a military operation in Nairobi to apprehend some high-level terrorists. Surveillance soon reveals that the group are preparing two suicide bombers for what is presumed to be an attack on a civilian target. Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) decides that the new circumstances change the mission objective from ‘capture’ to ‘kill,’ but complications soon arise when a little girl selling bread moves into range of the missile. Powell and Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) contend with ethical, political, moral and legal questions while trying to gain approval for the drone strike.
Alan Rickman once said that he didn’t play villains, but rather morally interesting characters, and his final live-action role is a testament to this. In one of the first shots we see him, he is buying a toy for (assumedly) his child, and it serves to establish him as a human being who wants to bring pleasure to his offspring. Thus, it makes his later deliberations more interesting than they otherwise could have been – he is not a one-dimensional army character, he is a person who is making a difficult choice. In his final performance, Rickman does what he did best – playing a complex and layered character
Eye in the Sky is a modern warfare thriller that is far smarter than it may first appear, and I think there are a number of reasons for this. I’ve touched on Rickman, but there are confident performances all around – this is a very human drama, and it feels true to life. There are multiple points of the story – Powell’s command centre, Benson and the government ministers in a COBRA meeting, the two drone pilots, the Foreign Minister (Iain Glen) and on the ground in Nairobi – all of which bring their own considerations and approaches to the situation. It is directed assuredly – there is no flash, and so all focus is directed where it belongs – on the story.
This multi-layered approach is also an excellent builder of tension, and that is one area in which the film excels. The tale is a tense one to watch, no matter what your personal stance is – whether you think that the collateral damage is justified or not, there is suspense generated in the build-up to the drone strikes. And fortunately, this is not a Hollywood film in which a hero sweeps in at the end and saves everyone’s lives while killing all the bad guys – no, this film wouldn’t insult you like that. Eye in the Sky seeks to reflect a potential real-life situation, and does it admirably.
What I think truly helps the film make an impact is that it chooses to pose a bunch of interesting questions but refuse to take a particular stance on them. Can you have a conscience in modern figure? Is collateral damage justifiable in the face of a graver risk? Is the risk of being seen doing something that may be construed as wrong enough to warrant not doing something you consider right? The film poses a number of questions, and doesn’t answer them – in the diegesis, this is simply a work day – and it will leave you thinking for days.
Before he leaves the COBRA meeting, Lt. General Benson tells a minister that she should ‘never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war,’ and that philosophy is an apt one for this movie. It offers an interesting and non-judgemental perspective on a warfare that is increasingly considered disengaged, presenting it as a gripping nail-biter of a drama that rewards the invested viewer.
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Helen Mirren (Colonel Katherine Powell), Aaron Paul (Steve Watts), Alan Rickman (Lieutenant General Frank Benson), Barkhad Abdi (Jama Farah), Phoebe Fox (Carrie Gershon), Iain Glen (James Willett)
Running Time: 102 Mins
Image credit: http://www.fandango.com/eyeinthesky_189278/movieoverview