VOD film review: Eye in the Sky
Mark Harrison | On 13, Aug 2016
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Aaron Paul, Phoebe Fox
War movies have been a staple of cinema since the very beginning and the recent rash of movies on the morality of modern warfare is symptomatic of global anxiety over how things have changed since the turn of the century. Still, it’s rare that one of these films is so committed to tackling the subject intellectually, as well as suspenseful.
Enter Eye In The Sky, a morality play about drone warfare, which is one of the thornier debating points of the 21st century and so creates ample stakes for a dialogue-heavy thriller. British Army Colonel Katharine Powell (Mirren) has received intelligence pinpointing the location of Susan Danford, a radicalised dissident whom she has been hunting for years, in a heavily populated shantytown in Nairobi.
Powell commands a multinational team dedicated to capturing the target, including US Air Force pilots Steve Watts (Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Fox), who control a drone orbiting over the shanty town, and Kenyan surveillance agent Jama Farah (Abdi) , who controls a insectothopter on the ground. Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Rickman) supervises from London, along with members of the British government.
But the stakes of the mission escalate exponentially, when their surveillance efforts reveal another, more imminent threat and muddies the rules of engagement. What ensues is a series of breakneck referrals up and down the chain of command, but with lives on the line for every minute that goes by, the success or failure of the mission may hinge on a local girl selling bread on a corner (Aisha Takow).
Guy Hibbert’s script is much heavier on dialogue than on action, but it’s hard to think of another film in the last 12 months that has so effortlessly raised viewers’ heart rates. There’s a precedent for this kind of dialogue-heavy play coming across as a little theatrical, but director Gavin Hood keeps the big screen squarely in his sights; seldom has a morality play looked or felt so much like an action thriller.
Compared to something like 2014’s War Book, a film about a protocol-setting war game between British civil servants (and also starred Fox, funnily enough), this is a truly cinematic talkie – the stakes are real, so the discourse is accordingly more weighty and urgent.
The casting is a huge boon, too, as Hood marshals waves of seasoned performers, such as Mirren and the late, great Rickman, and inexperienced (for the story’s purposes, at least) players, like the superb Abdi and Paul, the latter of whom finally gets a worthy post-Breaking Bad movie role, as the man with his finger on the trigger. The film’s timbre is closer to 12 Angry Men than The Hurt Locker, and the performances are vital to giving it the gravitas required.
There are a couple of moments of gallows humour to leaven the politically charged drama, some of which are more effective than others. There’s an unexpected bit of toilet humour that humanises a character played by Iain Glen, which sticks out like a sore thumb, but a brief interlude involving the nonplussed US Secretary of State feels masterfully satirical. Hood doesn’t turn the screws for the whole 100 minutes, but the film is no less taut in the end.
Eye In The Sky boils down to actors in uniform talking to each other on phones or on the Internet, but somehow, it’s one of the most provocative thrillers of the year. It’s pleasingly complex from the off and doesn’t find any easy answers, as it should be, and the overall effect of Hibbert’s well-chosen words and Hood’s sure direction is both haunting and memorable.