Eye in the Sky – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review
“They kill 80 people we win the propaganda war, we kill one kid, they win it….”
Wow, Eye in the Sky was an incredible ride, for a suspenseful movie where you’re waiting for politics and red tape and bureaucracy and diplomatic things to get approval, it sure was exciting! Helen Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell, situated in England and in charge of a remote mission in Kenya where local officials are set to apprehend a team of terror suspects. Alan Rickman plays Lieutenant General Frank Benson who is briefing a team of diplomats in Downing Street on the same mission. Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox are the American personnel who are operating the drones used in the strike from the United States. On the ground in Kenya is Barkhad Abdi as Jama Farah acting as the real-time eyes and ears for the operation. What goes from a simple capture operation escalates to a kill operation when Farah covertly observes the terrorists preparing a pair of suicide bombers. And then the story becomes entrenched in moral conflict. The red tape abounds as no one wants to be responsible for any collateral damage the strike may cause. As politicians pass the buck, and calls get put on hold, the tension increases exponentially when a young girl selling bread is spotted on the edge of the terrorists hideout. A young girl who would certainly be killed if they take action to stop the terrorists.
Eye in the Sky contrasts the necessity of military efforts to contain and reduce terrorism in the world against the freedoms and the vulnerabilities and innocence of the people who are living in that area. The little girl is a manifestation and perfect symbol of that. The whole film is about the moral conflict between those two things, and the audience gets to see it from everyone’s point of view. It poses the question of how many innocent people are you willing to endanger to stop the bigger bad? 5, 10, 1?
Everybody felt like the star of the film when they were on the screen. When Mirren was there, it was her film; when in Whitehall, it was an Alan Rickman film; in Nevada it was an Aaron Paul film, and when they were in Kenya, it was Barkhad Abdi’s film. Abdi really did a fantastic job carrying his pieces, especially because his parts transformed this intense political-suspense-thriller into an action movie of sorts. Eye in the Sky also did a very good job of not making Rickman or Mirren’s characters the bad guys or even unlikable. The Nevada crew seemed more sympathetic to the situation (that being the danger to the young girl), which could have made Powell and Benson seem like monsters with their perception and decisions on the situation and seem cold, heartless and simply militaristic. The film however does not let you feel the same emotion for very long. I think that switching locations and points of view as they did helped to keep the viewer from being able to from that opinion because in each scene each character was doing the “right” thing. It was also a clever way to balance a large, ensemble cast. I usually find that the “too many cooks” rule applies when you have too many big stars in a film, and that the story gets watered down so each gets enough screen time. Ironically in this case, none of the major cast members really shared “scenes” together. All were in separate locations and only communicated with each other by phone or video, but never in person. The actors probably didn’t even meet on set, as they could have just acted opposite someone reading the other characters’ lines a lot of the time.
Now, with all the suspense and all the thrills, with things blowing up, and children in danger, a thought struck me as I was watching the film, and I’ll try to phrase this without giving away any spoilers. In a critical scene of the film, Farah buys all of the young girl’s bread so she would go home and be away from the danger zone, but after buying the bread, he is chased away by soldiers and drops it. The girl picks the bread up, dusts it off and goes back to her table, right in harm’s way and proceeds to try and sell the bread again. Was this greed? Or was it just a child in a terrible spot trying to make as much money as she could for her family? Did the child’s actions (call it greed or whatever) actually put her life in peril? Since she decided to sell the bread twice, could she now die when we know she could have been safe? Could her choice have put other innocent people in peril? If her presence was the only reason that the strike hadn’t been carried out yet could the terrorists have gotten away? Those scenes really had me thinking, and playing a lot of “what ifs” in my mind, which I think really made me enjoy the film even more. A good story should make you think and should involve you emotionally and Eye in the Sky certainly did both.
Bottom Line: I haven’t been this close to the edge of my seat while watching a film in a long time. Superbly done and sadly the final time we got to see Alan Rickman on the silver screen.