Friday, 29 April 2016

Review: Eye in the Sky

Gavin Hood's Eye in the Sky chronicles the unfolding of a complex military situation in Nairobi, where two Al-Shabaab extremists have been found preparing suicide vests for an imminent attack on a populated area. British Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is eager to eliminate them with a drone strike before they have the chance to leave, but the situation is made far more complicated by the arrival of a young girl selling bread who would likely be caught in the blast radius and possibly killed.
This already impossibly difficult situation is made all the more so by the tightly restricted time window those in charge have to make a decision. As Powell points out numerous times, the extremists could potentially leave at any given moment and the consequences of their escape could be devastating. The audience isn't spared from the gut-wrenching indecision as the film takes place more or less in real-time, and feels very much like watching a real military operation in action.
This is an impressive feat, especially when considered that some of the technology in the film is quite clearly beyond what is currently at our disposal. But even with this knowledge, there's a great sense of realism carried throughout this film's runtime and that is because the futuristic tech never distracts from the theme this movie is drawing attention to; that being the ethics of drone warfare.
This is a theme handled with surprising delicacy and sophistication; as characters start taking sides in the debate on whether or not to strike, neither preference is made to seem like the "right" choice nor is either side portrayed as either villainous or heroic. The film is remarkably objective and never tries to force a point of view onto the audience, instead giving us all the arguments and allowing us to form our own opinions on the matter.
This high-tension story is anchored by strong performances across the board with the aforementioned Mirren portraying a hardened Colonel, but still managing to retain a sense of humanity. Aaron Paul, still searching for his place in a post-Breaking Bad world, reminds us why he was the emotional core of that show in his role as American 2nd Lieutenant Steve Watts. As the one who would have to fire the missile, Watts is arguably the most concerned for the life of young girl Alia and displays quite powerfully just how much strain a single day in the military can put on a person's mind. 

Barkhad Abdi of Captain Phillips fame is undercover agent Jama Farah, and as the character in the most imminent danger is easy to empathise with and proves here that his 2013 Oscar-nominated debut was no fluke. Finally, Alan Rickman (who tragically passed away earlier this year) puts in an excellent performance here as Lieutenant General Frank Benson. Rickman manages to perfectly deliver some of the film's comedic lines while never losing his persona as a respected and somewhat intimidating high-ranking member of the military.
Indeed, that is something that could be said for the film as a whole. It does occasionally veer into darkly comic territory in its satire of government and military indecision, while pointing out just how far removed some of the key decision makers can be in situations like this. Still though, it never makes light of the obviously highly sensitive situation it depicts and doesn't become so satirical as to lose the very grounded and brutally realistic tone that it establishes early on.
Eye in the Sky is a thrilling look at the ethics of drone warfare that could quite possibly end up being one of the most thought-provoking films of the year.


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