Release date: March 11, 2016 (limited)
Studio: Bleecker Street
Director: Gavin Hood
MPAA Rating: R (for some violence images and language)
Screenwriter: Guy Hibbert
Starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Eye In The Sky is a complicated film. It’s a war movie, yes. It’s a psychological thriller, yes. It’s conventional, not really. It’s incredibly exciting, well… at times.
Set in the modern day, Eye In The Sky attempts to bring viewers on a journey through to the front lines of the war on Terror. I’ve personally heard the comments that modern drone warfare is the “video game” war, with combatants detached from the real world actions they are inflicting. Eye In The Sky shows the viewer how much more complex a game this new paradigm actually is. With the precision and flexibility of analyzing every detail about an attack from the comfort of board rooms and situation rooms. With this ability to agonize and analyze every possible outcome, every potential that may arise from a particular action the decision making process of when to strike has become even more complicated.
Eye In The Sky boasts a stellar cast with Hellen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman in what has turned out to be one of his final roles. These three actors never share the screen together but their characters are intimately entwined as Rickman and Mirren play two senior level British military officers tasked with finding terrorists on the “most wanted list” and either capturing or eliminating them. Rickman’s Lieutenant General Frank Benson is an honorable man who’s seniority has him now directing his troops from a board room, supervised and accompanied by bureaucrats who are there to make sure that any action taken satisfies legal and public relations expectations. The battles between the soldier and the government aides is intense and written very well to identify the very complex questions of when, why, where, how and should a military action happen? The debates between these characters (and various additional government characters who come in and out during the incident via video conferencing) is dizzying. Looping logical arguments, staunch beliefs on multiple fronts as to what is morally right. The importance of this script being that no one here is wrong, everyone poses a viewpoint that is morally right and situationally wrong. In war, as the film demonstrates, nothing has an easy answer or outcome.
Mirren portrays Colonel Katherine Powell, a no-nonsense woman who commands a multi-national team tasked with bringing in a British national-turned terrorist. She has been pursuing her target for years and is now faced with a chance to finally take out her mark. The complication of collateral damage from her actions means she has to wait for the bureaucrats to determine if the cost outweighs the benefits. For her the choice is clear. And she takes some actions that are questionable in morality to make her case. Is she a monster, or is she a weapon for the common good? It’s an interesting and layered question that is given an appropriately layered performance from Mirren.
Aaron Paul’s pilot Steve Watts is faced with being the tip of the spear. The actual person in this entire endeavor who actually pulls the trigger. With all of the debates, and all of the evidence pushed around in the ranks above him Watts is the final voice, the final action. This is the character who most represents he idea of the video-game soldier and Paul delivers a nuanced performance that shows how emotionally scarring being in the pilot’s seat is. Being the instrument of destruction and death carries weight on the soldier and Paul shows the pain of the men and women tasked with this job.
Eye In The Sky is more political drama than an action-war film and benefits from very good performances. It raises awareness of the political, societal and military games that modern warfare has created, and exposes the psychological trauma that these war games inflicts on the modern soldier.