Eye in the Sky film review by Calum Maclean
Eye in the Sky
Directed by Gavin Hood
Written by Guy Hibbert
Cast – Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Ian Glen, Pheobe Fox and Aisha Takow
Running Time – 102 minutes
At this time of year, with the saturation of superhero franchises and big budget Disney remakes, it’s easy to overlook a smaller, more intimate story like Eye in the Sky, but to do that would be a mistake. This is a great film, exploring the moral complications of modern warfare with uniformly excellent performances, including the final onscreen appearance of the late Alan Rickman.
The story centres on a house in Nairobi, Kenya where high level members of the extremist group Al- Shabaab are meeting. Observing via aerial surveillance and undercover Kenyan agents on the ground, a large multinational team works on a mission to capture the terrorists, particularly a radicalised British citizen. However, when it appears likely that the extremists are preparing for a sizeable attack, a furious international debate begins, involving hawkish military, dove politicians, cautious government ministers and inexperienced drone pilots, all centring on the potential casualties of a drone strike and the innocent family living next door.
This is a film that raises complex questions without Hollywood solutions. Instead it offers a range of perspectives, each with valid arguments that directly contradict your loyalties to certain characters. This is enhanced by the subtlety and range of every performance. As the more aggressive military representatives, Mirren and Rickman display steely pragmatism with an undercurrent of empathy that makes it difficult to wholly oppose them, however much you may disagree with their statements or actions, and is a brilliant final example of the talents of the much missed actor. Similarly, Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox, as two untested drone pilots, provide a direct moral dilemma, acting as the audience’s literal eye in the sky, with their fingers on the trigger waiting for a decision to be made. Also, Barkhad Abdi’s performance as an agent operating spy technology ratchets up the tension on the streets, while Aisha Takow brings a human face to the cost of war as Alia, a young girl selling bread within the strike zone.
Aside from the compelling performances, what impressed me was Gavin Hood’s direction and Megan Gill’s editing as it skilfully navigates multiple international locations, uses action sparingly for maximum impact, and manages to make a series of phone calls cinematically exciting. That is arguably the most significant achievement of Eye in the Sky; that there is more suspense and intrigue generated through debate and the constant ‘referring up’ of responsibility than the average big budget thriller.
Eye in the Sky is still showing in cinemas, and I highly recommend it. The subject matter could not be more relevant, the film is well executed and the performances are excellent. If you’re looking for a standalone piece, unburdened by a franchise, which will both entertain and occupy your thoughts for days after, then this is a film for you.
Calum Maclean, 13 May, 2016.
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