Gavin Hood / Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi / Thriller / 2016 / 15 / 102mins
It’s not often that a war drama gets you thinking not only about the moral but also the political implications of just the simplest things. In the case of Eye in the Sky, that ‘simple thing’ is a single drone missile and the far reaching consequences of committing to pressing the red button.
The film opens in the Nairobi, Kenya, where a young girl and here family go about their daily business. Cut to UK shores and Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) awakens to the news that an undercover agent has been murdered by Al-Shabaab, a dangerous terrorist organisation. A meeting of militants is due to take place in Nairobi. A multi-national team, including a drone unit in the US (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox), must work together to bring swift justice. Not all goes to plan, of course, as more forks emerge along an increasingly dangerous path.
Despite the increasingly fraught situation, it’s remarkably easy to follow. Military lingo is kept to a minimum and it doesn’t descend into a farce. On the face of things, flitting from one global plot to the next should be confusing. Yet with distinctive characters, Eye in the Sky avoids any serious setbacks.
The horrors of war and extremism are captured well, but only because they focus on the normality of what it is like for folk in Kenya. There’s no thumping scoreline, there’s barely any CGI. There’s simple beauty in seeing something like a girl playing with a hula hoop amidst all the fanaticism and global warfare at play. It’s precision engineered camerawork akin to Sicario‘s docu-thriller style.
The apparent triviality of the few is life-changing for the many, and that one essential point has gravitas. The mixture of footage and personal perspectives contribute to the fact that this is a war that concerns us all. Subtlety goes a long way for movies, and Eye in the Sky excels.
The back-and-forth calls, vidlinks, moral discussions, political impetus, gets frustrating but is brilliant satire. Repetition is comical but without focus it is nothing less than Chinese water torture. Step forward Alan Rickman (in his last role, no less) who brings Rickman-ish sarcasm and wit to an otherwise straightforward cast peppered with minor highlights. Mirren is quietly devilish, her military ego denouncing her clean cut appearance. Barkhad Abdi plays it cool as spy Farrah, adding to the general consensus that he is a great character-actor. Juxtapose this with the melodramatic Americana of Aaron Paul’s drone pilot and, unfortunately, the bubble is burst.
A powerfully acted and unusually informal spin on the modern wartime political thriller, Eye in the Sky is a good film but not a great film, limited by it’s own style and pitfalls in the cast. However, it tugs on heart strings and asks some big questions. For creeping under the radar, this is a bona fide hidden gem for thriller enthusiasts.
Film as a Film – 3 / Target Audience – 4 / General Audience – 3
Eye in the Sky is available on DVD and Online
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