Directed by | Gavin Hood
Produced by | Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, David Lancaster
Written by | Guy Hibbert
Starring | Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northman, Iain Glen, Monica Dolan, Phoebe Fox
Run Time | 102 minutes
Certificate | 15
Plot | Heading a joint anti-terrorism operation, Colonel Powell (Mirren) and her team have tracked down three of their East Africa most wanted targets to a small house in an Al-Shabab controlled district of Nairobi. Ordering a drone strike, matters become more complicated (and political) when a young girl is seen within the estimated blast radius.
Review | Eye in the Sky is a topical piece, focussing on the moralistic questions surrounding the deployment of drones in anti-terrorist activities, and warfare in general.
Despite the rather dry sounding description, this is a very good thriller.
The use of drones has been a divisive topic since their introduction into military arsenals. On one hand, it allows governments to execute operations against high value targets with minimal risk to the lives of military personnel. This is often countered by the argument that, by not being in the battle zone, the troops are emotionally removed from the tasks they are undertaking, making it easier for them to take lives by removing the human element of combat.
Rather refreshingly, Eye in the Sky allows for the natural airing of both sides of the argument, without taking a definitive, moralistic stance either way – as well as illuminating other areas for consideration on such weighty decisions (political, etc).
One on side, you have Colonel Powell and Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Rickman), all too aware of the rarity of the opportunity they have, as well as the costs that could come with allowing the terrorist to go free (evidence they gather early on suggests the targets are part of a cell planning to undertake a suicide bombing). Benson has a particularly touching, poignant short speech about bearing witness to the carnage that these events can lead to.
The only true person on the opposite side to the debate is Angela Northman (Monica Dolan) who is stoutly on the side of taking no action unless proper authority is sought, and the risk to allied life is minimal.
Occupying the shade of grey no man’s land is a litany of politicians and lawyers. Principly, there’s Brian Woodale (Jeremy Northam), British Foreign Secretary James Willett (Iain Glenn), and Attorney General George Matherson (Richard McCabe). All put in decent performances in their roles, with Northman particularly good with his ‘deer in the headlights’ look at having to make such an important call.
If the board room skype chats provide political tension and spin analysis, the true tension and thrills come from on the ground. Barkhad Abdi plays Kenyan undercover agent Jama Farah. Initially use for medium distance reconnaissance, events conspire to place Farah at ground zero. Under constant threat from Al-Shabab troops, his tech based infiltration of the safe house is edge-of-the-seat viewing.
A small note should be made of the other featured characters, Steve Watts and Carrie Gershon (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox respectively), who are the USAF drone pilots charged with undertaking the bombing run. While they probably have less screen time than should be required to fully form their characters, the script and performances allows for the audience to empathise with their emotionally weighty situation.
Performances aside, the whole thing would fall apart without at least decent pacing and competent editing. Thankfully, this is no problem for the team working on Eye in the Sky. Everything clips along at a brisk pace, giving the feel of real time events (even if it actually takes place over a number of hours). It feels like everytime a character goes to ‘refer up’ that they are potentially putting the mission in jeopardy one way or the other.
Some may dislike the smidge of humour thrown into the piece (surrounding one of the politicians and some food poisoning), but it seems that was more included for added drama and, in a sense, realism – anything could be happening to anyone when an important life-or-death decision needs to be taken.
Eye in the Sky is not the first to tackle drone usage, but it is certainly one of the better efforts to date. It is an entertaining and thought-provoking film that acts as a nice, probably superior, complementary piece to Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill.