Film review: Eye in the Sky


Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is a military officer in charge of an international operation to capture a number of terrorists in Kenya. As the ‘capture’ option becomes increasingly unlikely, an ethical dilemma presents itself as an innocent young girl strays into the ‘kill zone’.

blog_recommendedThe operation, under the command of Colonel Powell (Mirren) in London, is a truly international collaboration. The rookie team responsible for the control of the drone aircraft is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The image analysis team is in Hawaii and the Kenyan military and intelligence operatives are on the ground in Nairobi, Kenya. Once it is learnt that the terrorists pose an immediate threat, the mission brief inevitably shifts from ‘capture’ to ‘kill’. What then unfolds is the most tense, gripping and ethically complex film I’ve seen in years.

Colonel Powell under the supervision of Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is desperate to proceed with the operation but is constantly thwarted by politicians, lawyers and even the personal conscience of the drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul). This makes for compelling but frustrating viewing. There are lengthy scenes of heated debate between General Benson, foreign office representative Brian Woodale (Jeremy Northam) and the Attorney General George Matherson (Richard McCabe). They are forced to weigh up the value of the lives of those involved against the political and legal repercussions of any action. Then there is the propaganda battle to consider! The frustration caused by continuous buck-passing as the situation is ‘referred up’ has caused some to be critical of this aspect of the film. For me, this debate is an essential element to the drama of the story and a valuable insight into the back-story of the war against terrorism.

This film is awash with stellar acting performances. Helen Mirren is superb. It is familiar territory to see her in control of a team charged with protecting national interests. She is in complete control of both the team and the operation. Mirren fizzes with energy and 1401x788-eye-skyexudes authority onscreen. Barkhad Abdi plays counter-intelligence operative Jama Farah. Abdi brings extraordinary depth and heart to this physically and emotionally challenging role. He is the human face at ground zero of the operation and gives one of the three most memorable performances of the film along with Mirren and Rickman. Lieutenant General Frank Benson is Alan Rickman‘s final screen appearance. It is a performance that shows many of the traits of the acting style that has made him so popular. He plays Benson as urbane, dry and witty while delivering his lines with laser precision. Don’t miss the scene when he is buying a toy doll. Priceless!

Among other notables is Jeremy Northam as the foreign office representative. He is great as the politician, racked with indecision over an almost impossible judgement call. The situation would be comical if it wasn’t so serious, and I was reminded of Paul Eddington‘s Jim Hacker in Yes Minister. Also a massive thumbs up from me for Monica Dolan as government aide Angela Northman. She is the ethical conscience of the House of Commons and gives a highly convincing performance in arguing the case for sparing the innocent. Her only mistake is to accuse General Benson of being out of touch with the value of human life. Rickman‘s pointed reply is “never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”

The events of this film occur in real-time so the pace is never allowed to drop. This, coupled with the time-sensitive nature of the operation, made for compulsive viewing.

The script was written by the multi-award winning Guy Hibbert. It effortlessly blends humour, debate and military protocol while straddling continents. What could have been disparate elements are brought together as a cohesive whole. This results in a great story, well told, that keeps you guessing until the end. All of the above comments can be equally applied to the film’s director, Gavin Hood. Following the previous directorial success of the splendid Ender’s Game and the award-winning Tsotsi, Hood presents a highly accomplished, thought-provoking and prescient drama. He even finds time for a cameo appearance as Lt. Colonel Ed Walsh.

Modern warfare is high-tech, so there is a lot of cutting-edge military technology on view in this film. While the image analysis, missile control, and spyware gadgets are all visually impressive, the overall effect is that we are watching something real. The music score by Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian effectively underpins the action with a brooding menace that adds to the tension.

This is a gripping and topical thriller that feels like the first heavyweight movie release of the year. Highly recommended.


Author: Simon, Norwich store