Aaron Paul, Action, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Breaking Bad, Cinema, Die Hard, Espionage, Eye in the Sky, Film, Film Review, Gavin Hood, Harry Potter, Helen Mirren, Movie Review, Need for Speed, Politics, Spooks, Thriller
“Eye in the Sky” is a British thriller directed by Gavin Hood; starring Helen Mirren (“The Queen”), Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad” & “Need For Speed”), and the late Alan Rickman (“Die Hard” & the “Harry Potter” series).
From a production value standpoint it feels more like an episode of “Spooks” than it does a big-budget blockbuster, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. “Eye in the Sky” may lack in terms of significant spectacle, but it makes up for this by taking an interesting look at the legal and political ramifications of war, and the terms of engagement that are in place for a nation which intends to take action against terrorists in a peaceful country.
The film specifically revolves around Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), who leads a mission to capture high-level extremists in the Al-Shabaab terrorist cell. These extremists just so happen to be meeting at a safe house in Kenya, so a drone is used to monitor their activity. Of course, this drone isn’t merely an eye in the sky for the entirety of the film as the title may suggest; what begins as a capture-by-force mission turns out to be something much more dangerous for the civilian population, as surveillance from the ground reveals that the terrorists are in fact preparing for an attack.
It all sounds relatively straight forward for a film based around espionage and the military, but what actually makes it worth watching is a young girl attempting to sell loaves of homemade bread. I never thought that watching a girl trying to sell bread could be so tense, but Gavin Hood and the writers of this film proved me wrong. The girl in question happens to be in the blast radius of the missile which the drone is set to release, which leads drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) to ask for more time to allow the girl to move along, and a lot of discussion back home as to whether or not the girl’s presence makes the strike unjustifiable from a propaganda perspective. It’s a clever take on a familiar story, and one which tests the moral sensibilities of its audience.
As is so often the case in real life, many of the life-and-death decisions which occur in the film take place in either the boardroom, or on the toilet. In a lesser film this would have been the focus of the narrative and a pressing political critique would follow, but to the credit of the writers, “Eye in the Sky” never feels like one man’s anti-war agenda playing out on screen. It presents the facts of how military operations are performed, with multiple people making one decision, and shows that despite the fact that they have all the power, none of them really want to take the blame should something go wrong – they often refer up to a higher level of government, and they clearly feel the responsibility of having to make such a serious decision.
This is made more believable by the fact that the characters aren’t cartoonish or underdeveloped, despite the fact that none of them get a lot of screen time – there’s no villain who views everything from a cold and inhuman perspective, and there’s no one who is vehemently against everything that the other’s stand for; they’re all on the same side. There is one woman who plays that latter role in a weak sense, but she does feel like a real person despite her slightly naïve perspective – it’s not that she’s an idiotic or badly written character, it’s just that she wants to save the girl’s life and she doesn’t want to have the loss of innocent civilians on her conscience. The only real issue I have with her character is that perhaps someone who is so out of touch with the reality of war shouldn’t have a seat at the table, but we know from experience that in the real world people who don’t belong in politics often find themselves with significant power.
The last issue that I had with the film was that it was a little bit too convenient that whilst the politicians and the military personal were mulling over the best way to deal with the situation, the terrorists simply sat around and twiddled their thumbs. They weren’t really doing very much inside the house that they were planning their attack in, and it seemed like this was just because if they did the story wouldn’t have been able to progress. If the terrorists weren’t in the house then there wouldn’t have been a debate about the drone usage, because once they left the house they would’ve been in a crowded area where use of a missile would’ve caused as much damage as letting the suicide bombers succeed in their attack. Of course, it does make sense that with this consideration in mind the writers localised the events of the film to that house and the areas where the discussion was taking place, but it still makes the story as a whole substantially less believable.
All in all, “Eye in the Sky” is an entertaining and well-acted film, with a compelling story centred around the moral dilemma of stopping an attack which will take innocent lives… by knowingly taking an innocent life. It’s more than worth watching if you have some free time on your hands, and whilst it isn’t the best film I’ve ever seen, I’d happily recommend it.