Directed by Gavin Hood and starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi and Alan Rickman, Eye in the Sky offers a thrilling, edge of your seat commentary on the current age of warfare.
The story takes place in pretty much real-time. A number of military units based around the globe are working collaboratively using drone warfare to track wanted Al Shabaab terrorists, including British and American citizens who are set to meet at a safe house in Nairobi, Kenya. Among the terrorists is radicalised British national Susan Helen Danford based on the real-life Samantha Lewthwaite, who was married to one of the 7/7 bombers.
Helen Mirren is Colonel Katherine Powell, who is in charge of the unit at Northwood Headquarters, UK reporting to Alan Rickman’s Lieutenant General Frank Benson who is overseeing the operation with UK politicians in London. Over in the US at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, USAF pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is controlling the Reaper Drone, ready to strike, with Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) at his side. The team also includes undercover field agents in Kenya most notably Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) who uses bugs to gain intel on the ongoings inside the terrorist meeting locale. Kenyan troops are positions nearby ready to seize the terrorists.
What ensues is a fascinating and gripping look at the issues behind modern warfare and particularly the issues surrounding drone warfare. It’s edge of your seat stuff for almost the entirety of the film. Saying that, for a war film, there is very little action. But the pacing is excellent. Twists and turns along the way complicate the situation, with the mission changing from capture to kill. This results in legal, moral and political complications for Powell, Watts and Benson. Not least of which is the likelihood of collateral damage when a missile is fired into such a heavily populated area. Collateral damage is to be expected in war but is it acceptable to strike knowing there is a good chance innocent people will die? Is it acceptable not to strike knowing that the terrorists will go on to cause a lot more damage if let go? How do you make those decisions?
These decisions are made hundreds of miles away with the responsibly resting on the shoulders of politicians who aren’t comfortable making them. And they shouldn’t be. There’s not necessarily a right answer here. Is the definite death of one child worth preventing a hundred or so probable deaths? You’ll leave asking the same questions yourself. Rickman’s Benson is tasked with convincing the politicians that the strike is the only option and is lambasted for this. In return he accuses one politician of having it easy, making these decisions with coffee and biscuits and that he, as a soldier, is full aware of the consequences of war. It’s a fine display from what is, sadly, one of the last performances of the late, great Alan Rickman.
GOOD. Eye in the Sky is a gripping thriller which doesn’t let you off lightly. Not only does it ask difficult questions of every single character, it asks the same questions of the audience. Good luck coming up with an answer.