Eye in the Sky is a taught, thrilling tale of war time morality told with sophistication and aesthetic homage to the great Steven Spielberg.
This international moral conundrum unfolds across the globe. After long term intelligence gathering bears fruit Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) locates a British ex-pat turned bride of one of the African continent’s most wanted terrorists. Coordinated drone surveillance monitors the target at a distance, piloted from Las Vegas by Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), in England by British high command including Col. Powell and Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman); and on the ground by covert cameras in Kenya by Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi). When their team observes additional targets and explosive vests for suicide bombers they have to make a perilous choice; save the lives of hundreds of others or all but assure the death of one beautiful innocent Kenyan girl.
Director Gavin Hood draws together one of the truest ensemble films in recent memory. While there are some big hitters in the cast, each of the characters get such distinct moments to shine by creating tension with or reacting with those performers that they’re directly tussling with. Writer Guy Hibbert does a masterful job of linking the chain of characters working through this team in ways that, despite how seemingly small their role is; they’re vital. Hood’s direction makes so much dramatic sense in every editing choice between locations for different characters but also in frequently forcing the audience to look into the gaze of the character being engrossed with the unfolding situation. Every time you look back at those characters you feel their perspectives, their prejudices and their beliefs pouring out of their eyes. Hood and Hibbert so effectively make you feel like there isn’t a wrong perspective here. Just when you think that you’re firm on a character’s position, you get an emotional reset as you get drawn into another character’s gaze.
Hibbert’s script shows that the value of life has become an equation, protected by bureaucracy. While decision making is more sophisticated, the perceived layers of “quality” and “governance” eventually mutes the humanity of what you’re actually asking of the person with their finger hovering over the trigger.
The cast across the boards are tremendous, but there are some performers that deserve a call out. Helen Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell with so much determination and goal orientation that you feel she’s losing touch with humanity. Aaron Paul does some of his best work as drone pilot and trigger man Steve Watts; who is firm in challenging the chain of command to accept the potential for the loss of innocent lives. Phoebe Fox’s Carrie Gershon complements Paul perfectly here as his camera operator. Barkhad “Captain Phillips” Abdi plays drone controller on the ground, Jama Farah. Abdi has effortlessness in his style; whether he’s smiling to look less threatening, or intently directing drone insects with cameras; he’s perfectly equipped to play an operative. Monica Dolan plays the firm progressive liberal voice Angela Northman who realises that her perspective and “political correctness” cannot penetrate this situation. Finally the tragic highlight is Alan Rickman’s Lieutenant General Frank Benson. Rickman beautifully plays the conduit between the politics and the military considerations of the operation. He’s a character with laser sighting and such a commanding voice, without ever having to get fierce.
Eye in the Sky has flown under the radar, when it deserves a parade. It’s an essential tale of contemporary warfare and humanity; told masterfully.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Eye in the Sky is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital
Directed by: Gavin Hood Writing: Guy Hibbert Starring: Faisa Hassan ... Fatima Mo'Allim Aisha Takow ... Alia Mo'Allim Armaan Haggio ... Musa Mo'Allim Helen Mirren ... Colonel Katherine Powell Aaron Paul ... Steve Watts Babou Ceesay ... Sergeant Mushtaq Saddiq Carl Beukes ... Sergeant Mike Gleeson Mondé Sibisi ... Muhammad Abdisalaam Warren Masemola ... Agent Atieno Ahmed Mohamed Ali ... Omar Alan Rickman ... Lieutenant General Frank Benson Phoebe Fox ... Carrie Gershon Lemogang Tsipa ... Matt Levery Gavin Hood ... Lieutenant Colonel Ed Walsh Hassan Abdullah ... Shahid Ahmed Ebby Weyime ... Damisi Vusi Kunene ... Major Moses Owiti Francis Chouler ... Jack Cleary Ed Suter ... Benson's Aide-De-Camp Richard McCabe ... George Matherson Jeremy Northam ... Brian Woodale Monica Dolan ... Angela Northman Roberto Meyer ... Rasheed Hamud Omar Abu Kadir ... Driver Two Kim Engelbrecht ... Lucy Galvez James Alexander ... Image Analyst Barkhad Abdi ... Jama Farah