Release: 15th August 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
London-based military intelligence officer Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is remotely commanding a top secret drone operation to capture a group of dangerous terrorists from their safe-house in Nairobi, Kenya. The mission suddenly escalates from a “capture” to a “kill” operation as Powell realizes that the terrorists are about to embark on a deadly suicide mission.
The big question that fuels Gavin Hood’s fingernail popping thriller is, what’s an innocent life worth? This is a film that plays out in four locations; a military hub, a government meeting room, a stuffy drone control centre and on the streets of a small town in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s a film that falls somewhere between Oliver Stone and Alfred Hitckcock, by way of Brian De Palma, but never quite reaches their heights. But here is a film that plays to the benefit of expectation (or lack thereof) – proving itself to be a way bigger fish than advertised. Don’t be fooled, Eye in the Sky is more 12 Angry Men than it is Black Hawk Down.
An argument can be made that Eye in the Sky is at its most impish when it forces audiences to take a long hard look at themselves and decide, “what would I do?” It is not so much a film that places judgment on any one individual, (although politicians do come off a tad worse than most. As in one particularly awkward moment when Jorah Mormont gets a bout of the old Tommy Tits– no wonder Khalessi wanted shot of him!), instead it tries to objectify modern long distance warfare in a way that is reasonably honest and respectful to all parties involved. Some shortcuts are taken to amplify the narrative tension. The film’s ‘innocent’ (slang term here for someone who sells the same bit of floor bread twice, swindler!) is a small girl who is educated, hard working and comes from a good wholesome family. Aaron Paul’s drone pilot is sensitive and resilient – seemingly the only military voice that isn’t quick to pull the trigger. And we never actually see the past atrocities of Ayesha Al-Hady and her motley crew of jihadists; making it easier to err on the side of caution. Eye in the Sky presents a hypothetical situation that lends itself more readily to reason for waiting, in an effort to strain out the arguments for pressing the big red button.
The key to the film’s biggest white-knuckle moments is Barkhad Abdi, who plays Kenyan spy Jama Farah. Abdi’s on the ground antics range from the life threatening exchanges with militia, to navigating one of the most sophisticated (and frankly ludicrous) bits of insect technology known to man. Abdi’s ulcer worthy day of stress even manages to make selling buckets not for the faint of heart. There is no point of reference for Eye in the Sky, which makes it all the more enjoyable, as lack of publicity has meant audience have no idea what to expect.
Hood’s direction is fairly ordinary. He makes a few poor choices in exploring the more ‘high tech’ moments, and fails to keep focus on the human element of his story. But thankfully, Guy Hibbert’s script keeps the pace moving and soon has us back on the ground. There are no great streams of patriotic dialogue beside a particularly Rickmany mic drop, nor are there any particular character developments (although Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman are afforded brief moments of domesticity). Eye in the Sky lives and dies by its central premise, but wastes few ingredients in its making. It is a tight and well-crafted little number that does more to explore the drone argument than the likes of, say, Good Kill, achieved. The ending may feel a little off base, but the journey there is enough to give you a grey hair or two. Who knows, it might even give the public AND the military, some food for thought.
Film Grade: B-
A couple of EPKs just appear to give the steady stream of Interviews a bit more bulk. But do not be fooled, the interviews are all there is. And although they are fairly informative, you can’t help but wish some set footage was present to give it a bit more context.
Special Features Grade: C-
It might put you off purchasing local produce for a while, but Eye in the Sky is a wonderful exercise in hindsight theoretics.