Review – Eye In The Sky (15) [2016]

Eye In The Sky - title banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Gavin Hood – A Reasonable Man, Rendition, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender’s Game

Cast:

  • Alan Rickman – Die Hard, Harry Potter I-VII(i) & VII(ii), Sweeney Todd, Alice In Wonderland I & II
  • Helen Mirren – The Queen, The Debt, Brighton Rock, Woman In Gold, Collateral Beauty
  • Aaron Paul – The Last House On The Left, Breaking Bad, Exodus: Gods And Kings, Central Intelligence
  • Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips, Grimsby, Extortion
  • Aisha Takow
  • Iain Glen – Kingdom of Heaven, The Iron Lady, Game of Thrones, Resident Evil: The Final ChapterMy Cousin Rachel
  • Lex King
  • Phoebe Fox – The Woman In Black II: Angel of Death, Life In Squares, The Hollow Crown
  • Monica Dolan – Sightseers, Kick-Ass II, Pride, The Falling

Music Composer:

  • Paul Hepker – Tsotsi, Rendition, Deadliest Catch, Shepherds And Butchers
  • Mark Kilian – Rendition, Trust Me, Lady Bloodfight, Beyond Paradise

In January this year, Alan Rickman lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away. He was a wonderfully talented actor and his presence will be greatly missed on screen. Nevertheless, cinema-goers are privileged to have one last posthumous performance from him, and boy is it special.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) on the phone, desperately trying to get permission to launch a drone strike to capture, and then kill, certain high-profile terrorists.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) on the phone, desperately trying to get permission to launch a drone strike to capture, and then kill, certain high-profile terrorists.

Eye In The Sky centres round the British military wanting to capture Al-Shabaab terrorists meeting in a safe house in Nairobi, Kenya. Through intelligence, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has learned that Susan Danford (Lex King), an Islamic convert who is high up on the UK’s and US’ terrorist list, has been seen. Moreover, through Farah (Barkhad Abdi), a Kenyan undercover operator, Col Powell learns that Danford and two other Islamist terrorists are getting ready to commit suicide attacks in the Kenyan capital. Thus, Danford and her friends need to be killed and quickly.

Yet, for Col. Powell to give Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), a Nevada-based US pilot, the order to fire the drone to kill Danford and her friends, she needs to get permission from her superiors, notably the London-based Attorney, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman). And in order for him to give Col. Powell his consent, he needs to evaluate the legality of the drone attack; the extent of the collateral damage that is likely to occur if he orders a strike; and how many people could die if he does not order the strike and lets Susan Danford and her friends go through with their suicide attacks in a densely-populated area. And provided Lt Gen Benson can prove that ordering the strike is the correct course of action, he then has to get authorisation from his political masters.

In the meantime, while Col. Powell waits and Lt Gen Benson talks, the time is ticking. For every moment they don’t act, the more chance Susan Danford and her friends have to get away. And to make matters more complicated still, a little girl called Alia (Aisha Takow) decides to sell bread within a yard of where they plan to strike.

Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) listening to the arguments for and against launching a drone strike, while waiting for permission to launch it.

Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) listening to the arguments for and against launching a drone strike, while waiting for permission to launch it.

Eye In The Sky is an intense film. It is completely realistic and has some real-world comparisons; for instance, Susan Danford is an alias for Samantha Lewthwaite, an Islamic convert and widow of Lyndsey Germaine, one of the 7/7 suicide bombers, who has now disappeared and is believed to be assisting Al-Shabaab somewhere in the Horn of Africa. Of equal comparison to the real-world are the moral and ethical questions that the film puts forward. This gives the film great complexity as there are no straight-forward answers to the questions; for example, once Alia places herself next to the target, is it right to kill one innocent little girl to save (speculatively-speaking) eighty-plus people? Or is it right to do nothing and let the suicide bombers get away and kill those eighty-plus people when they could have been stopped? And whatever course of action one decides to take, how will the British government explain it to the media (and to the Kenyans)? And how will that make Britain/the West look with regards to the propaganda war that the West so desperately needs to win in order to win the War on Terror?

Cleverly, Eye In The Sky does not force one view or another on its audience. Instead, it illustrates how many hoops Western politicians and military personnel must jump through before they can give the go-ahead for a drone strike, as well as the painstaking lengths they will go to minimise collateral damage, even at the expense of missing out on their targets. Indeed, under the circumstances (they are trying to exterminate terrorists and have a very short time-period to do so, after-all), one would expect Western leaders to be more sociopathic in their inclinations and be willing to launch a drone strike virtually on a whim. However, from this film, one can see that the opposite is true and that even the most hawkish of military figures, Col. Powell/Helen Mirren, do their utmost to save innocent (and not so innocent) lives.

Col Powell looking at an aerial view of the house she wishes to strike (right) and the people she wants to take out inside the house (left). Meanwhile, on the perimeter of the house, Alia sits and sells bread.

Col Powell looking at an aerial view of the house she wishes to strike (right) and the people she wants to take out inside the house (left). Meanwhile, on the perimeter of the house, Alia sits and sells bread.

Suffice to say the acting is superb throughout the film. Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul are apt for their parts and give the right amount of emotional depth to their roles. Also, Rickman’s last line to the (aggravating but necessary) British advisor, played by Monica Dolan, is powerful and poignant. It is such a shame Rickman will no longer be gracing our screens; yet, if there is a way to bow out in a distinguished manner cinematically, his last line is it.

Over-all, Eye In The Sky is a brilliant film. It is an authentic, tense and thought-provoking piece of work that does not aim to push its audience one way or another. Consequently, the movie will have viewers pondering whether they would have acted as our protagonists did long after the film has ended. Furthermore, Eye In The Sky will make audiences appreciate just how conscientious Western leaders are when it comes to giving the green light for a drone strike in a civilian area in the War On Terror. Alan Rickman ensures it.

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