Scott F. Evans
“The needs of the many…”
The new thriller Eye in the Sky examines the moral, legal and ultimately human cost of drone warfare. British Colonel Katherine Powell is tasked to apprehend three top ranking members of a known terrorist group. The three are tracked to a compound in Nairobi, Kenya. A team of Kenyan Special Forces are stationed nearby with an armed American Reaper drone flying overhead providing surveillance. When it’s discovered that the group is planning an imminent suicide attack, capturing them becomes too risky an option. Powell requests a dronestrike on the compound to kill the terrorists before they can depart. The only problem is that an innocent young girl is selling bread just outside of the compound but inside of the blast radius.
Directed by Gavin Hood, Eye in the Sky is a taut, complicated gem of a movie that works on every level. The film has a leisurely pace while maintaining a sense of urgency throughout. There are lengthy scenes of politicians and military brass arguing over the legalities of a drone strike, but the film never lets up on the tension. The script (by Guy Hibbert) is smart and timely. He fills his dialogue with military jargon but manages to never lose the audience.
On the surface, Eye in the Sky looks like a cold, techno-thriller, but the film also has a strong emotional core. The characters all actually wrestle with this serious issue. They realize that there will most certainly be collateral damage, but the potential cost of not immediately carrying out this strike could be even greater. The terrorists are rendered as a typical, one-note mysterious organization with generic goals, but that seems to be point. We see them only from a specific POV. The U.S. drone watches them from thousands of feet above. Kenyan spies track them on the ground with undercover operatives and robotic cameras. All of this information is fed to the British military personnel who are actually in charge of the mission. This creates an emotional distance between the cell and the agents who are after them, as well as the viewer.
Hood and Hibbert cleverly manipulate your emotions just as military leaders do the same to the troops who have to actually carry out these video game-like attacks. By watching the enemy through monitors and omniscient viewing angles, we are placed above them both physically and morally. However, the filmmakers wisely pivot and give this film some all-important heart by introducing us to the young girl’s family. And here, like with the various agents, Hood puts us on the ground with them. We’re in the family’s home and watch them go through their struggle in dealing with the extremists that also happen to be their neighbors. It’s an extremely effective tactic that gives Eye in the Sky an added layer beyond the typical film of this nature.
Hood also has the advantage of working with an excellent cast. Helen Mirren leads as Colonel Powell. She’s ruthless and efficient. If this piece has a villain, it’s her. She recognizes the absolute necessity of her mission, and is willing to accept reasonable losses to complete it. The late Alan Rickman plays Lt. General Frank Benson. Tired and irritated by political bureaucracy, Benson isn’t quite as zealous as Powell. But he is still resolute in his mission. Aaron Paul also does solid work as USAF pilot Steve Watts. He finds the right emotional beats as the man assigned to actually pull the trigger if the attack is authorized. Barkhad Abdi gives a great performance as Kenyan spy Jama Farah. He’s on the ground and in the most danger of any of the allied forces. Abdi is very natural in the role, even bringing of bit of levity to the situation.
RATING: Eye in the Sky is definitely worth a watch. Catch it in theaters before we get the inevitable flood of summer popcorn films.