Review: Eye In The Sky

Review: Eye In The Sky

War movies generally have the opportunity to take you somewhere you have never been. The stories generally take place in remote locations and involve problems most of us just don't think about on a day-to-day basis. Eye In The Sky is no different in this regard, but its magic is in its tight story, impeccable acting and timely themes surrounding the future of warfare itself.

This story involves a secret drone mission being carried out by multinational forces in Nairobi, Kenya. When she learns of the location of terrorist targets, Colonel Katherine Powell (played by Helen Mirren) seeks to navigate legal and bureaucratic hurdles to strike before it is too late. As the story unfolds, complications arise that make the decision more and more difficult. 

Photo Courtesy of Entertainment One

The action takes place in four primary locations. First, Colonel Powell helms the military operations from a spare concrete bunker with seemingly unlimited technology. She spends much of the movie corresponding with Lieutenant General Frank Benson (played by the late Alan Rickman), who helms a political 'situation room' of sorts. Most of the cerebral elements come from the tension between these two settings, while the two other settings drive the action. 

The first of the action-oriented settings is a facility in Las Vegas, Nevada from which 2nd Lieutenant Steve Watts (played by Aaron Paul) operates the drone at the center of the story. The other is the Kenyan village where Jama Farah (played by Barkhad Abdi) collects intelligence for this multinational coalition. What ensues is a cross-border decision-making process, with dire stakes, as a nine-year old girl appears to be in the blast radius of a potential strike. How much should her life be valued against those that could be lost if the terrorists are allowed to escape? How much risk is too much risk? 

Photo Courtesy of Entertainment One

The casting director may be the real star of the film, as all of the principal players are perfectly suited to their roles in the film. Helen Mirren delivers a character that could have easily gone several different directions. First, by bucking gender norms and casting a woman, the filmmakers offer something of a blank canvas. Because this is not a role we have seen women in very often, Mirren is free to create a nuanced character. This person could very easily be viewed as the antagonist, but Mirren ably keeps that from happening. Shifting her weight to signal uncertainty in various moments and speaking to each other character differently, Mirren is at home in this role as the commanding presence with just a tinge of moral ambiguity.

Photo Courtesy of Entertainment One

While Mirren's character drives the action forward, Rickman, Barkhad Abdi and Aaron Paul all contribute wrinkles to this narrative. Rickman is wonderful as the military officer charged with corralling the political forces; trying to strike a balance between military pragmatism and political intricacies. Aaron Paul, of Breaking Bad fame, is in a similar role here, as he plays the conscientious finger on the trigger. Audiences are likely to sympathize most with his character, as he highlights the potential future of PTSD in a world where warfare is becoming more high-tech and a more sophisticated every day. Lastly, Barkad Abdi seems at home in his role as Jama Farah, the quick-thinking Somali agent trying to smooth the situation on the ground. 

Photo Courtesy of Entertainment One

And for me, it is Farah that highlights the biggest issue with the film. In some ways, Mirren's Colonel Powell is treated too lightly. Her decisions at various points and her emphasis on the ends are certainly deserving of a more critical eye. The American perspective in this film is represented in terse phone conversations that dismissed the very real costs to a drone strike. Though nuanced, Colonel Powell was not too far from this mindset. The ease with which she decides to risk Somali lives to achieve her objectives could have used greater scrutiny. Her singular focus on the terrorist of British citizenship is treated with indifference when it is at least worth questioning. Because the action moves so quickly, there is little reflection on some of the more ambiguous moral pitfalls like these. While that makes for a taut narrative, making the audience think even more deeply about some of these issues might have been worthwhile. A more thorough meditation on "culpability" would have made for a more well-rounded story. As is, this is a thoughtful thriller with enough action to keep audiences entertained and enough mental heft to leave them thinking.

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