***1/2 out of ****
Eye in the Sky is a film I felt very little inclination to see. Maybe the thought of a current-day military thriller with a seasoned actress like Helen Mirren in the lead, an average director like Gavin Hood at its helm, and it being the final film to feature the presence of the late Alan Rickman had me cautious of the possibility that it was a weak movie with major selling points.
To my surprise, Hood’s direction of a screenplay by British TV writer Guy Hibbert is a fresh piece of war fiction with a mild sense of humor in spite of the nail-biting tension and tragic possibilities in store.
The film is a drone-warfare thriller similar to Cold War movies like Fail Safe for existing in near real-time, putting the audience in a state of urgency with its characters. The contemporary spin involves a British Colonel (Mirren) electronically communicating with multiple characters from high-ranking government officials (Jeremy Northam, Richard McCabe and Monica Dolan) - under the military advise of a Lt. General (Rickman) - all the way down to a field agent (Barkhad Abdi) near the point of interest.
The situation: British Intelligence has pointed to a safehouse in Kenya where wanted Al Shabaab terrorists are believed to be hiding. In collaboration with the US Air Force, drone pilots (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox) provide surveillance while on-ground video bugs (some of which function too beautifully to exist outside the 007 arena) capture closer views, which confirm identities.
A no-kill capture procedure is underway until an unexpectedly dreadful revelation surfaces in the video feed, which justifies an immediate drone missile strike. The only problem in their way is a serious risk of innocent civilian casualties. The rest of the film revolves around tense deliberations to authorize the strike and the near comical tendency of characters to refer decisions to others.
For me, the film’s slight lack of realism is excusable considering how strong the drama of the plot’s hypothetical situation is. The technology seems exaggerated for cinematic effect, but serves to comment on the potential for God-like precision in modern warfare that gives its operators a more daunting sense of accountability.
Hood usually deals in melodrama, but most of his films have been fantasies. It’s probably without coincidence that he followed 2013’s Ender’s Game with a grounded approach to a similar subject.
Everyone turns in a good performance, especially Mirren who is a character in the middle of so many deciding voices and dead-set on achieving her objective, regardless of the mess it may cause.