Right On Target: Eye In The Sky

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.


Helen Mirren-680

Photo by Keith Bernstein – Courtesy of Bleecker Street

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?

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024