Writer: Guy Hibbert
Cast: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Barkhad Abdi
Running time: 102mins
What’s the story: A British Colonel tracks high-ranking members of a terrorist group to a house in Kenya. Her orders for a drone strike become complicated by the arrival of a girl selling bread outside.
What’s the verdict: Drone warfare and terrorist insurgency were touched upon in director Gavin Hood’s previous film, the underrated Ender’s Game and take centre stage in Eye in the Sky.
Helen Mirren impresses as the steel-nerved Colonel Powell (a role originally intended for a man) whose long hunt for the terrorists (including a radicalised British national) seems to have borne fruit. Particularly when it becomes evident a terrible event is being plotted inside the house that makes the question of the little girl’s proximity to a strike far more problematic.
A modern day warfare film, the conflict is largely virtual. Powell’s team fight from a bunker in Surrey. Jeremy Northam as a governmental minister and the excellent and sorely missed Alan Rickman as a military advisor sit in an oak-panelled London office. Aaron Paul’s drone operator is located in a comfortable porta-office Stateside. Iain Glen’s Foreign Secretary, attending a lavish arms fair, fights the war from the toilet due to iffy seafood.
Only locals are put in immediate danger. Captain Phillips’ Barkhad Abdi is a surveillance man whose mission to infiltrate a dangerous part of town and fly a literal bug into the terrorist hold-up allows the film moments of audience-friendly tension.
But, Eye in the Sky is best when exploring the impossible situation at hand and the moral and political fall-out of a wrong decision. Referring the problem up to ever-higher levels of government becomes a grim joke, smoke-black humour also found in the creative ways a 65% chance of the girl dying can, on paper, be reduced to a more acceptable 45%.
Admirably leaving out easy answers, Eye in the Sky is another solid movie from Hood, who seems to be building to a knockout film but is not there yet.
His starry cast and the Kenyan scenes (shot in South Africa) mean this is never stagey, but despite the subject matter the tension of the situation emerges only in bursts, while the score is too on the nose for the psychological strain of the lethal conundrum.
The Ethan Hawke starring A Good Kill remains the best drone movie to date, but Eye in the Sky is an intelligent addition to a debate that sadly is unlikely to go away.