Release date: 15th April 2016/Watch the trailer here
Eye in the Sky, directed by Gavin Hood, sees Helen Mirren’s Colonel Katherine Powell commanding a drone operation to capture wanted terrorists in Kenya. It is very much a look into modern warfare: Col. Powell is in a UK military bunker, Alan Rickman’s General Frank Benson is in a lavish London conference room, and the drone pilot – Aaron Paul’s Steve Watts – is in Nevada. Only Barkhad Abdi’s Jama Farah is in Kenya, and the closest he can get to the terrorists is via a camera mounted on a flying ‘beetle’.
Despite jumping from location to location – London to Nevada to Hawaii to Kenya to China and back again – Eye in the Sky never feels disjointed. Even as the mission escalates when a little girl selling bread enters the kill zone, triggering an international dispute, Hood proves his capability as a director, fluidly transitioning from each character in every corner of the globe, maintaining tension all the while.
Taking place in real time, Eye in the Sky is unbearably tense at times, but perhaps more than anything else, the film’s real achievement is the questions that it asks of its audience. The topic of modern drone warfare is a current one, but with no one on the front lines, Eye in the Sky highlights the moral and ethical dilemmas of making the decision to pull the trigger. Mirren plays Col. Powell as a hardened veteran, so keen to catch her terrorists after years of trying that collateral damage in the form of one dead child hardly fazes her. Paul’s drone pilot, however – who’s only ever acted as the eye, never having had to fire before – struggles with the knowledge that, as the trigger man, any innocent deaths will be on his hands.
Thus, what was once a simple mission escalates as the legal and political ramifications of the girl’s potential death must be considered, with no one willing to give the green light. What the dispute essentially comes down to is whether or not the death of one innocent child is worth preventing the terrorists from going on to cause dozens more deaths: one life sacrificed to save at least eighty more.
As a viewer, it is impossible not to question what you would do if you were in that situation. It becomes all too easy to judge from the comfort of our cinema seats, but as the late, great Alan Rickman scorns – you cannot watch war in comfort, with ‘coffee and biscuits’ and clean hands, and then go on to criticise the soldier’s decision. The entire film is terrifically acted, but Alan Rickman in particular reminds us all of just how perfectly he could deliver a line. Barkhad Abdi, too, proves that his standout performance in Captain Phillips was far from just a fluke – and how refreshing it is to not see him being automatically typecast as the villain.
Eye in the Sky, therefore, achieves something that few thrillers ever do – to be riveting, suspenseful, and entertaining, as well as informative and eye-opening. Most refreshing of all is that the entertainment never comes at the cost of a cheapening of the film’s values. It would have been all too easy to create a polished, Hollywoodisation of a war film, split distinctly into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Instead, Eye in the Sky delivers a look into the implications of modern warfare in which no one gets off blame-free.