Synopsis: Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.
Release Date: March 18, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Last year, the next-generation Top Gun clone Good Kill explored the ethicality and conscientiousness of drone warfare. This year, Eye in the Sky does it, too – and does it better.
Eye in the Sky is about a British terrorist hunter named Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren from Trumbo and Hitchcock) who has managed to track three of her five most wanted perpetrators to the same house in Kenya. She enlists the help of an American drone, flown remotely from Las Vegas by pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul from “Breaking Bad”) and Co-Pilot Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox from “Close to the Enemy”), to keep an eye on the house from the sky while ground forces can be mobilized to storm the building and apprehend the targets. When surveillance reveals that the terrorists are preparing for a suicide bombing, Powell changes her objective from capture to kill. Right as Watts is about to pull the trigger and send a Hellfire missile into the targeted structure, a little girl wanders into the area. Powell consults with her commanding officer, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman from the Harry Potter movies), and they, along with a slew of other advisors, have to decide whether sacrificing one little girl is worth potentially saving hundreds of other innocent lives.
The screenplay for Eye in the Sky was written in 2008 by Guy Hibbert (Five Minutes of Heaven), but it took four years for him to find producers that would even read his script. In the years between Hibbert coming up with his story and the start of the film’s production, the political climate of the nation had changed; America had admitted that civilians had been killed in drone attacks. Suddenly, Hibbert’s script went from “what if?” to “look at this.” The ethics behind the military drama suddenly got real.and controversial.
Director Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) lets Eye in the Sky play out in real time, so it is essentially ninety minutes of a bunch of people strewn about the four corners of the world trying to decide whether or not to pull a trigger. Despite how uninteresting that may sound, the movie is absolutely riveting. The justifications and reasoning behind each different character’s position on the matter is fascinating, and the ticking clock of the closing window of opportunity to strike gives the movie a shot of adrenaline-laced suspense. Eye in the Sky is the very definition of a political thriller.
Which all brings us back to Good Kill. Eye in the Sky doesn’t have the same patriotic glory as Good Kill, and it doesn’t end with a simple solution like Good Kill. Eye in the Sky asks a question that is, in all actuality, not easily answered – in fact, it can be hotly debated for hours after the closing credits of the movie have stopped rolling. But Eye in the Sky does force its audience to ponder the cost of war, one kill at a time.
Because Eye in the Sky is basically one big long conversation, it goes without saying that the acting has got to be top-notch for the film to remain intriguing. Luckily, it is, so it does. On paper, it would seem as if Helen Mirren is a strange choice to play a military commander, but she comes up with all of the piss and vinegar that the role demands, and she even gets to show off a bit of the Colonel’s sensitive side when things get tough. Aaron Paul is great as well as the low-ranking voice of reason who throws the rulebook into the ranking officers’ faces when asked to perform what he believes could be a war crime. Alan Rickman is, well, Alan Rickman; the man commands any stage or screen that has the good fortune of hosting one of his performances. The real surprise of the film is Barkhad Abdi, who plays an agent on the ground in Kenya (and has the closest thing to action scenes that are to be found in the film). He proves that he has real acting chops and that his role as one of the pirates in Captain Phillips was no fluke. Eye in the Sky may be mostly dialogue, but the talented cast keeps the audience on the edge of its seat with every line.
The photographic look of Eye in the Sky is a lot cleaner than most war movies, mainly because it’s a modern warfare movie. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (Thor, Locke) switches seamlessly between the dimly lit bunkers of the military “good guys” and the dusty sunbaked ghetto of the Kenyan township without any jarring inconsistencies in image quality. During the heated discussions about whether or not to launch the missile, Zambarloukos uses a very shallow depth of field and shifts focus from character to character, depending on who is talking and, eventually, on who wins the argument. Zambarloukos also does some cool things with the drones themselves; not only is the drone’s eye view shown (and there’s more than just the one drone – there’s also a fake bird drone and a fake bug drone), but flying cameras show the drone itself at work in the air. It’s all pretty fun to watch, and the drone shots provide a nice break from the tense war room discussions. Eye in the Sky‘s cinematography is just as captivating as its storyline.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Gavin Hood
- Producer(s): Ged DohertyColin FirthDavid Lancaster
- Screenwriter(s): Guy Hibbert
- Cast: Helen Mirren (Colonel Katherine Powell)Aaron Paul (Steve Watts)Alan Rickman (Lt. General Frank Benson) Phoebe Fox (Carrie Gershon)Barkhad Abdi (Jama Farah)Jeremy Northam (Brian Woodale)Richard McCabe (George Matherson)Monica Dolan (Angela Northman)Francis Chouler (Jack Cleary)
- Editor(s): Megan Gill
- Cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Ruy Filipe
- Casting Director(s): Deborah AquilaKate DowdMoonyeen Lee
- Music Score: Paul Hepker
- Music Performed By: Mark Kilian
- Country Of Origin: USA