Press a button and the damage is done. There is no further commentary about it, no aftermath. This is what usually happens in films revolving around war. There’s rarely any collateral damage in terms of ethics, emotional turmoil, etc. The central plot of “Eye in the Sky” isn’t particularly original in terms of what we’ve seen, but what makes it stand out (besides the strong cast) is the examination of a decision to pull that trigger and the consequences of said decision. This makes it a strong film that has a fresh angle on the politics of war and the decisions being made not on the battlefield, but behind closed doors.
Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), a UK-based officer, wakes up to news that two terrorist leaders that have been on the wanted list for years have finally been found in a village in Kenya. Lt. General Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman) is in an office with UK government officials going back and forth about the “capture” situation they have on their hands. All the terrorist activities are monitored through remote surveillance, courtesy of the agent on the ground in Kenya (Barkhad Abdi). Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), a drone pilot stationed in America and , the four locations interact with each other.
When “capture” turns into a “kill” mission, several decisions need to be made about risk, impact, and clearing it with the US and UK prime ministers, among others. The situation takes a very different turn when a young girl selling bread finds her way into the kill zone. With limited time on their hands to take out the terrorists, moral, political, and other implications are questioned about the finality of the impending decision.
“Eye in the Sky” is highly ambitious and is a take on drone warfare that we’ve seen from films like “Good Kill.” The difference here is that “Eye in the Sky” has far more layers and its effective because it doesn’t play into what could have easily turned into moral arrogance. The focus isn’t on the woes of any military personnel, but rather on the implications and repercussions of the actions being taken by them. It’s mature in its execution and doesn’t pander to its audience, but rather presents everything rather intelligently.
Director Gavin Hood doesn’t allow for an easy answer. There are high stakes and the suspense over not knowing what is right, what is wrong, and what the final decision will be is nail-biting to say the least. In a film that doesn’t have any obvious action (you won’t find lots of explosions or shootouts here), the anxiety comes in the form of the constant back-and-forth between the ensemble cast.
Helen Mirren is well-cast in a role that is usually taken up by a man. Her assessment and growing impatience over the indecisiveness of her superiors doesn’t make her heartless, but she is the most calculated of everyone involved. The remainder of the cast, from the late Alan Rickman, in his final onscreen role before his death, to Aaron Paul and Barkhad Abdi, everyone has has their own ideas and opinions about the intense situation, but everything is gray and questionable.
From beginning to end, “Eye in the Sky” builds up the tension and suspense to the point where it becomes unbearable. Even you will ping pong between what the characters should and should not do in a morally ambiguous in the game of ethics and politics in war. The film is littered with political commentary and is dynamic, ambitious, and works great as a thriller where no one is right in a tough situation.
"Eye in the Sky" builds up the tension and suspense to the point where it becomes unbearable. The film is littered with political commentary and is ambitious and works great as a thriller where no one is right in a tough situation.