Eye in the Sky (2015)

  • Time: 102 min
  • Genre: Drama | Thriller | War
  • Director: Gavin Hood
  • Cast: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman


Eye in the Sky stars Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell, a UK-based military officer in command of a top secret drone operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. Through remote surveillance and on-the-ground intel, Powell discovers the targets are planning a suicide bombing and the mission escalates from “capture” to “kill.” But as American pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is about to engage, a nine-year old girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute, reaching the highest levels of US and British government, over the moral, political, and personal implications of modern warfare.


  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)


    IN BRIEF: A film that will cause some needed discussion about war and the lengths we will go to protect ourselves, even if the film lacks a balanced point of view.
    GRADE: B

    SYNOPSIS: Due to a high degree of civilians living near a terrorist group, military officials debate a mission, the bombing of a sleeper cell.

    JIM’S REVIEW: War is hell. That’s a given. With a winner-takes-all mentality and the combative nature of the military, is there room for any moral doubt about its brutal outcome and the growing casualties caused by war? Should the collateral damage ever exceed or interfere with the on-going mission? Do we readily accept the decision to kill for the good of mankind? Red flags and all sorts of honorable questions are raised and endlessly debated in Gavin Hood’s seriously-minded war drama, Eye in the Sky. (But we already know the response, don’t we?)

    The film tackles the issue of drone surveillance as a tool to stop terrorism at any cost. The scenario pits the good guys, in this case, an English colonel (Helen Mirren), an American pilot (Aaron Paul), and a British general (the late Alan Rickman) against evil African terrorists set on causing more carnage. From the start, there is much debate and talk between the members of the military, diplomats. and politicians about destroying the target, a sleeper cell in Kenya that is manufacturing bombs. As the film progresses, more evidence points to this target as a haven for terroristic activity. Ready…aim…fire…That is, until a sweet little girl remains in the line of fire near the intended site, causing moral ambiguities to come into play.

    Now, right then and there, I suspended my belief as the film began to lose its grip on reality. The ethical quagmire never becomes a solid enough argument, especially with the military cast of characters involved. (Would one child’s presence be such a catalyst to stop any military operation if it could prevent a mass suicide bombing killing hundreds? Perhaps if the mission involved more civilian lives at stake, the philosophical conflicts plaguing the assembled parties could have made more of an impact to this reviewer.) In Guy Hibbert’s literate screenplay, co-authored by Mr. Hood as well, that is not the case and the filmmakers stack the deck when personalizing the toll of war by focusing on an innocent child and her loving family (who also show their disdain for the Islamic fanatics). Manipulative and effective, but also partisan and ill-balanced, the film ups the ante when the rules of engagement begin to change and a mission to capture the targeted extremists becomes a shoot-to-kill assignment with many lives at stake.

    Yet Eye in the Sky makes many interesting points, especially with the behind-the-scenes encounters at various locales and the convoluted bureaucracy that works on an international scale to slow down the urgency in decision-making. Ethics and morals are frequent allies in this global battlefield and the film takes that message quite seriously, almost scoring a direct hit.

    The actors are all fine, although they are given very little dramatic scenes. Mostly, everything is too restrained, factual, and introspective. The cast is expected to deliver their monologues and look grim as the situation unfolds, but they add more depth to their characters than merely being talking heads playing devil’s advocates to each other. Particularly strong are Ms. Mirren (as always), Barkhad Abdi, and Mr. Rickman in his final screen role (what a talent, what a distinctive voice).

    Eye in the Sky can camouflage itself however it wants, but it is foremost, an ethics lesson disguised as a war movie. Its credibility stretches the limits, giving way to a predictable but unflinching ending. The film is gripping and thought-provoking. It deserves an audience for its sheer courage at discussing the consequences of war in an adult and realistic manner.

    Sadly, the average moviegoer should see this provocative film but will not. Nowadays, we need to be entertained, not disturbed. Comic book superheroes have replaced our real heroes. And the war goes on…

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  • Who knew that watching a little girl sell bread could be so tense? The morality of Drone warfare is a fairly new concept the modern day war films seem to yonder down, case and point being Andrew Niccol’s 2014 film Good Kill. Eye in the Sky is a frustratingly thought provoking film about the prolonged search for an answer, as to whether out-of-the-loop politicians will allow a drone strike to commence as they take the law, propaganda and public image into account. My summary may give a negative opinion of this film, BUT it is quite the opposite. This is a good film.

    The film in essence is a 100 minute debate on the morality of missile strikes. The film really delves deep into this dilemma and continues to add new obstacles into the mix to see how it may change things. Guy Hibbert’s dialogue heavy screenplay was fantastic in bouncing from drone pilot to Chinese Ping Pong to Ian Glen taking a dump and to Alan Rickman’s old white people room etc. Pieced together with Gavin Hood’s direction, the reel time film’s issue is handled immensely well and the sheer inability for anyone to make a decision and stick with it (except Mirren and Rickman) will certainly leave you frustrated and angry at the cowardliness on displayed by those who are supposed to do what’s best.

    The acting thought-out was great. Aaron Paul puts the meth to one side to operate a drone in the best film and film role he has had as of yet. Joining Jesse is Helen Mirren, who’s determination to drop the missile is visible in every line she utters, boarding on the comical side at times as her patients grows thinner and thinner as the film proceeds. She was a bad ass who literally take no prisoners and shines in the role. And then there is the late great Alan Rickman to deliver one final great performance, which in my opinion, is the perfect send off for the thespian, made complete with a perfect closing line.

    Eye in the Sky is a wonderfully tense and relevant film, it will aggravate you but that is Gavin Hood’s intention as he firmly sides with Mirren and Rickman in this film. I really enjoyed this reel time political war film and am glad that Alan Rickman has this as one of his last films. The film has done him well. “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”

  • Technological advances may have allowed countries to conduct so-called armchair wars, where battles can be fought not on the ground where you can see the whites of your enemies’ eyes but rather from elegant boardrooms or bunker-like spaces lit by the glow of surveillance monitors. Videogame mentality aside, war is still war – there are still decisions to be made, morals to be compromised, data to be manipulated, public perception to be carefully shaped, and innocent lives to be lost. The absurdly tangled logistics behind a single military operation is the focus of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky. On paper, the series of decision-making might make for a dry, talky affair but Hood’s taut direction and the cast’s excellent performances combine for a riveting, thought-provoking drama.

    Taking place over the course of several hours and ping-ponging between Nairobi, London, Las Vegas, and Hawaii, Eye in the Sky concerns Operation Cobra, which entails capturing radicalised British national Aisha Al Hady (Lex King) who has joined the militant group Al-Shabaab and is scheduled to meet with two new recruits in Nairobi. Leading the mission from a Northwood, London compound is Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) whilst Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is sat in a Whitehall boardroom full of officials. Manning the eye in the sky from a Nevada military base are Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and his rookie partner Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox); Kenyan agent Jama Farrah (Barkhad Abdi) is the man on the ground in Nairobi.

    Complications arise, most prominently the realisation that Al-Shabaab is about to send out two suicide bombers, which leads to the decision from Powell to change the mission from a “capture” to a “kill.” The change, however, is not so easily implemented as the military and political machinations go into effect. One sticking point is the presence of Alia (Aisha Takow), a young girl selling bread in the area near the intended strike zone; there’s a human face on the table now and many involved in the operation are unwilling to strike knowing that girl – and many others in the area – will be a casualty.

    Rules of engagement and collateral damage estimates are discussed and then discussed some more. Are they willing to sacrifice the lives of those who will be killed if they let the suicide bombers carry out their plan? Benson is fully behind Powell’s call to strike, but the officials are not so keen. There are British subjects and an American citizen involved in the militant group. None of the officials are willing to make the decision that will hold them accountable in the eyes of the public, and the responsibility is pushed further and further up the chain of command until the U.K. foreign secretary (Iain Glen), already dealing with a bout of food poisoning, and the U.S. Secretary of State (Michael O’Keefe), on tour in Beijing, are both asked to weigh in. The latter doesn’t even think twice – they’ve got one of the most wanted terrorist figures in their sights, attack – whilst the former wants to know what action is recommended. “The legal argument is we could wait, but we need not wait. The military argument is we should not wait,” offers Brian Woodale (Jeremy Northam) in a typically evasive response.

    Guy Hibbert’s screenplay offers no easy answers. Everyone makes valid points, even if other considerations such as winning the propaganda war (perhaps allowing the bombing to happen might be better in selling the War on Terror to the public) come into play. As the U.K. foreign secretary notes, “Revolutions are fueled by postings on YouTube.” The efforts to get Alia out of harm’s way without arousing suspicion are gripping as are Farrah’s attempts to maneuver a surveillance beetle into the house containing Al Hady and the other Al-Shabaab members without having his cover blown. Then there are a handful of images – one extended, one almost a throwaway – that have deep impact: a woman being ushered out by a guard for not having her wrists covered and Alia playing with a hula hoop. These are freedoms Westerners take for granted along with the expectation of living in relative safety. “You can’t handle the truth,” Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan R. Jessup barked when asked to justify his actions in A Few Good Men. Freedom comes at a price, and Eye in the Sky muses that there is another war, sometimes a strangely comic but no less difficult one, that takes place to weigh that price.

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