“Eye in the Sky” Movie Review


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     Returning to the director’s chair after his two most notable outings, “Ender’s Game” (2013) and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009), were mostly underwhelming, Gavin Hood has officially made his mark with his fantastic drone warfare film “Eye in the Sky”.  A film which will most certainly be remembered not only as a taut suspense driven military and political drama, but also for its multi point of view take on the various positions for and against this type of operation that would have those in control calling the shots and pulling the trigger from a situation room continents away from their target.  Essentially, the story is configured by British screenwriter Guy Hibbert as a “day in the life” kind of scenario.  We understand from the first set of scenes that each of the characters function within a preset routine, two of them are shown waking up to an alarm clock and another is predisposed with buying the right doll for a child’s gift, and there is really nothing indicating to either of them that today would be any different than any other day.

     “Eye in the Sky” boasts an outstanding and game cast who clearly have immersed themselves within the material, making for an ultra realistic set of circumstances occurring everywhere from on the ground at the actual target in Kenya, to the anxiety filled tactical rooms where high ranking military advisors grapple with elected politicians as they attempt to determine the proper course of action.  The film measures up to the white knuckle suspense of both Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”, as well as last year’s British war film “Kilo Two Bravo” in every way, ensuring the film will become a lasting portrayal of what the battlefront looks like in today’s post Iraq and Afghanistan landscape.

     Early on, we meet two key players within the story.  One, a British Colonel named Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), who is leading a mission to capture a group of Islamic terrorists, which includes a British citizen, who are expected to be at a meeting in a Kenyan neighborhood with others high on the world’s list of terror suspects.  The other is Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), an Air Force Lieutenant stationed at Creech Air Force Base just outside of Las Vegas, who flies the drone from his location as it sits some 22,000 feet above the target house in Kenya functioning as the “Eye in the Sky”.  Though thousands of miles apart, Powell and Watts must work together in order for the mission to succeed, but unbeknownst to either of them, several obstacles are lying in wait.

     Hood sets up the scenario by telling us the situation the main characters face initially.  Watts and his partner, Airman Gershon (Phoebe Fox), begin their shift with a briefing from their superior officer, Lt. Colonel Walsh (Gavin Hood), who informs them of their mission to provide support and surveillance for an operation led by Colonel Powell in which Kenyan military forces would storm the home where the terrorist meeting is set to take place and attempt to take the suspects alive for interrogation.  And while the Kenyan force remains in a warehouse a few blocks away, a Kenyan undercover surveillance unit is monitoring the would be terrorist hide out on foot, deploying some of the most high tech surveillance equipment I have ever seen in a film.  The unit is led by Jama Farah (the excellent Barkhad Abdi, who was nominated for an Oscar after his turn in “Captain Phillips”), who is continually asked by his superiors to get closer to the house in order to get detailed on site video used to confirm exactly who is in the house and what they are doing.  These scenes, which force Farah to constantly change his tactics in order to maintain his cover and still obtain the information needed, are among the most adrenaline charged and suspenseful of the film.

     Behind the scenes, in addition to the surveillance provided by Watts’ drone and Powell’s command of the operation, we are shown the inner workings of the British political landscape as Lt. General Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman) is charged with being the liaison between Powell and the high ranking political officials of England who are faced with making crucial decisions as the operation and its parameters suddenly change.  As anyone who has worked within a command structure knows, the situation becomes increasingly more difficult when those in charge refuse to make a timely decision.  Hood has this particular scenario on full display as the British Prime Minister, Attorney General, and Secretary of State among others, endlessly debate both the merits and draw backs of using force they didn’t anticipate having to resort to.  Nearly every time Powell asks Benson for authorization to use force, they are met with a comical rash of indecision which has the key players scrambling to find other high ranking officials above them to bring in for counsel.  Of course, the matter at hand has certainly gotten interesting.

     What was a highly dangerous mission to capture a group of terrorists has quickly turned into a mission to stop them from committing a terrible act.  Powell now wants to have Watts target the terrorists with one of the Hellfire Missiles his drone is equipped with, meaning the decision making process has gotten significantly more complicated with collateral damage being the most important factor considered.  Hood handles all of this with a supreme grasp of the material and an obviously meticulous attention to detail.  Some of the “collateral damage” comes in the form of characters who are never developed, but the story’s focus remains more with the debate on the importance of human life as that weighs on every decision being made.  Is it acceptable for just one innocent person to lose their life in a missile attack that would take out three of the top five most wanted terrorists in the world?  Those are the issues our leaders deal with today as modern warfare has become more like a video game than ever before.  And “Eye in the Sky” presents these issues in a way that will have you thinking about them long after you leave the theater.  GRADE: B+