It will be almost impossible to review a film like Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky without navigating into the world of politics. This is a film that takes the politics of the War on Terror and integrates it into the very fabric of the war itself. The film tells the day-in-the-life story of a drone pilot, Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and his co-pilot Carrie Gershon (Paula Fox). The order comes down that there are several high value targets in a safe house in Kenya. One of which is an American and the other is a British citizen, both of whom have taken up the war against the West and now fight for radical Islam. Eye in the Sky is told in almost real time about the legal, ethical, political and moral decisions facing these two pilots as well as the other personnel who are also privy to this scenario.
Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) upon hearing that one of her contacts has been assassinated by members if the same group that has converged to this safe house in Kenya, decides it is time to make the case to take these people out. She has one other undercover operative still on the scene named Jama (Barkhad Abdi) but he is on the verge of being discovered. Originally a “capture” mission, now becomes a “kill” mission, but must get the approval of several governmental officials from three or four different countries. Once permission is finally established, an innocent young girl sets up a bread-for-sale stand right next to the very same building about to be obliterated by a Hellfire missile. Several attempts are made by the agents on the scene to get her out of there without raising suspicion, but fail. This changes the mission but should it? There are other details that we see revealed but this is a spoiler free review.
Eye in the Sky was made in 2015 but did not secure a release until April 1, 2016. Evidentially, the material is very controversial and in election year in the United States, makes this discussion very uncomfortabl for some. The fact that this film actually is very fair with the material was also a pleasant surprise. This is a very well written film (partially based on a true incident, although not in Kenya) by Guy Hibbert who does a terrific job creating a story about how the decisions made affect everybody involved on both sides of the decisions, sometimes with devastating unintended results. Director Gavin Hood hooks you early with some real tension and everything feels so authentic that you actually feel like you are there watching the situation unfold. Special kudos go out to editor Megan Gill who has done a fantastic job of keeping the flow of the film contained and fascinating. Eye in the Sky is a film, after all, based on time frames and Gill’s editing is crisp and to the point. Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography captures the dirt and grime of this Kenyan village.
The acting is superb by everyone involved. As I mentioned in addition to Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Phoebe Fox there is Alan Rickman (sadly, in one of his last roles), Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Monica Dolan and Michael O’Keefe. Every performance is solid gold. Rickman has such a strong presence and delivers a line to a bureaucrat in the last scene of the film, that is chillingly true and will stay with me for the rest of my life. Hood is able to keep the tension by letting these characters interact in seemingly true fashion as they ask for permission, then re-ask and ask once again, all the while the clock is ticking. If these terrorists get out while everyone is waiting for a decision to be made, it could means hundreds of lives in the future. Director Hood creates a very believable scenario and keeps you in knots with edge of your seat intensity. His choice to have Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian score Eye in the Sky was a good one. They have created a tremendous score that builds and builds as we wait and watch, along with the characters in the film. It is almost an interactive experience. It is not overly dramatic but sets the perfect tone of a harsh reality that is about to converge on this safe house.
Eye in the Sky does not make judgments of anyone, except to place blame on the terrorists, themselves. Collateral damage is heavily weighed and labored upon in convincing fashion. You want the right decision to be made, but what is the right decision? Bureaucrats be damned, pragmatic reality is the rule to live by. Eye in the Sky came and went pretty fast through theaters. Budgeted at thirteen million dollars it brought in almost thirty three million dollars in its limited run. This is not a flashy film. Eye in the Sky is an intense, provocative and sharply written thriller as well as impeccably acted, directed and scored. I was surprised at how measured the filmmaker’s opinions were in this film and did not get the feeling they were talking down to the viewers. They respected the viewers, believed in their material and have made one of the best films of 2016.
Eye in the Sky – ****3/4 out of 5
Eye in the Sky – Rated R for language, violence and adult situations
Eye in the Sky – Run Time is 102 minutes
Eye in the Sky is now available on DVD and On Demand