Film review – Eye In The Sky

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EYE IN THE SKY

Tense war drama based on a prospective drone strike to take out three high value targets in Kenya. Starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman and Aaron Paul and directed by Gavin Hood.

There’s a haunting line at the end of Eye In The Sky delivered by the late, great Alan Rickman about the cost of war that really sums up what the movie is all about. Though the question of morality has been covered before in war movies, I don’t think it’s ever been examined in quite such an up close and personal way, despite – or maybe because of – the distance offered between a drone’s target, its pilot, the military authorities controlling it and the political powers giving them licence to do so.
That’s several layers of detachment between the person pulling the trigger and whoever’s in the cross-hairs.
Then there’s the question of legality.
In essence this is war by committee, with one eye on the propaganda machine and another on the prize itself, namely saving lives… or so they’d have us believe.
After seeing eye In the Sky I’m not so sure anymore.

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Anyone watching it will experience a whole gamut of emotions because it will have you on the edge of your seat, scratching your head, open-mouthed, laughing out loud and watching through the cracks of your hands now clasped over your face .. all in the space of a few minutes.

I get the feeling it was an important movie for Helen Mirren to make and it’s certainly an unusual and perhaps admirable role for her to take on. Of course, our glorious dame has been in uniform before, most notably in 2010, where she played a Russian cosmonaut, and in her signature role as Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect.
This time round there’s a bit of a question mark about her age given her rank is that of a colonel. I’d like to think she’s specialised in military intelligence and there’s only so many openings in that department – a fact borne out by her own admission that she’s been tracking one of the targets – a former British woman who converted to Islam as a 15-year old – for over six years. For Col. Powell, you get the feeling this is personal, so when her prey ends up with her husband – together ranked 4 and 5 on the East Africa terrorist chart – under the same roof as the number two in the region, all preparing a pair of suicide bombers for their first and only missions, not only is this a golden opportunity for a big score, but it’s also something of an ambition of the good colonel.

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Alan Rickman offers superlative support – as ever – playing a recalcitrant general, stuck in the war room with a junior minister, an attorney and two civil servants, one of whom happens to be a woman with the not-so-hidden agenda to prevent any immediate loss of life, even if it makes for further casualties at a later date.
Meanwhile, as it’s a joint operation, over in Nevada a fresh crew has just taken control of the Reaper drone patrolling the area in question and it’s their job to execute the mission and take the actual shot should they be called upon to do so.
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays the part of the pilot with nervous restraint, barely able to keep his own nerves in check while also nursing through the rookie comms operator sitting alongside him.
On the ground, there’s local armed forces chomping at the bit but held back in their camp, trigger-happy militia ready to shoot anything that looks at them the wrong way, a couple of field agents in a van monitoring the target house using an array of gadgets, including remote-controlled birds and beetles equipped with high-definition video cameras.

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Then there’s the girl .. the little girl, playing in the dust with her new hula-hoop; the little girl selling bread when it’s fresh out of the oven; the little girl chided by her father for dancing around the backyard in front of one of his more fanatical neighbours.

She’s not the target, but she’s in the collateral zone and she’s the reason the mission is on hold while the various parties thrash it out as they try to take a decision.
The army wants to go ahead, the Americans want to do likewise, the minister isn’t so sure, while his adviser is adamant the strike should be called off.
Legal, moral, mathematical and military questions are asked and answered and the plot unfurls in real time, switching from location to location, face to face, all linked via satellite and video screens.
The technology is staggering.
The implications only more so ..

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To say this is one of the most gripping movies I’ve seen in years is an understatement.
The script is sharp as a tack and there are some very funny moments, even if you’re mainly laughing out of light relief.
The tension is constant, unrelenting and only gets worse as the story develops.
Every actor is at the top of their game and the cinematography is superb, but a special mention must go to the sound design.
An often overlooked aspect of film-making, the music is superb, but even more impressive is the use – and non-use – of ambient sounds. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
I’ll say no more.

Go and see this movie if you’re a fan of Helen Mirren but wasn’t sure as it’s “a war film”: it’s not, not really. It’s more of a political thriller.
Go and see this movie for Alan Rickman’s last performance – he steals every scene he’s in.
Go and see this movie to find out what modern warfare looks like. The days of “picking a window” with a bomb-strike are long gone – it’s even more surgical than that now and all from the comfort of an armchair several thousand miles away ..

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