Suspense comes in many different packages, cinematically
speaking. Eye in the Sky generates
almost unbearable tension by taking a big subject (drone warfare) and narrowing
its focus to the decision of whether to order a deadly strike if it means
killing an innocent little girl.
I don’t know if this is realistic or not, but it certainly
plays that way in Guy Hibbert’s screenplay, masterfully orchestrated by director
Gavin Hood, who gave us the Oscar-winning South African film Tsotsi a decade ago. Helen Mirren is
outstanding as a no-nonsense British officer in charge of a military operation
to rout out terrorists in Kenya. She commands a wide range of men and women,
some in the same darkened room as she, surrounded by giant video screens, others
spread around the globe. Two of them are highly-trained, highly focused drone
pilots (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox).
But Mirren must answer to a Lt. General (Alan Rickman) who
sits at the head of a table in London with elected officials and politicians. What
may seem expedient and even necessary to Mirren, is subject to review and an
often mind-numbing amount of international protocol.
Eye in the Sky is
the kind of film that forces us to ask ourselves what we would do in this
situation. It refuses to let us off the hook. This is a specialty of Hibbert,
who wrote the potent and underrated Five
Minutes of Heaven (2009), which starred Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt. And,
like last year’s Good Kill, with
Ethan Hawke, it explores the psychic toll on the pilots who engage in
long-range warfare, killing people from a safe distance. To them, this is no
video game: they understand exactly what is at stake.
A top-notch supporting cast including Jeremy Northam, Iain
Glen, and Barkhad Abdi (from Captain
Phillips) make significant contributions to Eye in the Sky…and, of course, it’s bittersweet to see the late
Alan Rickman, doing a fine job as always in an atypical role.
Eye in the Sky is
engrossing, provocative, and exciting on both an intellectual and visceral
level. What more could one ask of a film?