This timely and thought provoking political thriller analyses the operational, emotional and moral complexities of modern warfare. The central dilemma at the heart of the story revolves around a simple question which has no easy answer: Is one life worth risking if many could be saved? The subject is tackled in an intelligent and informative manner in this gripping, slyly satirical piece of work from South African director Gavin Hood.
The action kicks off on the volatile streets of Nairobi where military intelligence has verified that some of the world’s most wanted terrorists are set to gather in one location. We quickly learn that there are many eyes upon them. At London mission control is steely Commander Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), who has been tracking one of the suspects for years and is determined to bring her target to justice. In Whitehall, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is joined by a group of government officials with vested interest in the legal and political ramifications of the situation. Drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), is based in a Nevada military bunker, whilst on the ground in Nairobi, undercover agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) is the man closest to the action. The mission begins as a capture-only operation but soon escalates when it is revealed that the terrorist group are strapping up for a potentially lethal suicide bombing. A drone assassination is deemed to be the most effective course of action to stop them, but the situation becomes complicated when 9 year old Alia (Aisha Takow) sets up a bread stall near to the targeted location and will undoubtedly become collateral damage if the strike goes ahead.
From a stylist perspective, the film is beautifully crafted. All of the parties involved are linked via high-def cameras, so despite the global scale and range of international settings, the film has a claustrophobic and intimate feel. Each story strand hooks together seamlessly and is peppered with compelling characters whose conflicting viewpoints make for absorbing drama. There is a plethora of discussion and intense debate about the ethical implications of the mission but the film never gets bogged down by the weight of its subject matter. It is written and edited in a clever way which ensures that visceral action and palm sweating tension are maintained throughout. The dialogue is snappy and subtle interjections of absurd humour work well, such as a running joke which sees key decision makers choosing to ‘refer-up’ rather than take on the responsibility of sanctioning the air strike themselves.
With such a distinguished cast, it comes as no surprise that the performances are uniformly excellent. It’s worth singling out Alan Rickman in his penultimate screen role (he also provides a voice in Disney’s upcoming Alice Through The Looking Glass). In his final speech he responds to a detractor by relaying his first hand experience of suicide bombings and their aftermath. “Never tell a soldier that he doesn’t understand the fallout of war,” he says. It’s a telling line, perfectly delivered by Rickman and the film, which is dedicated to his memory, is a fitting epitaph to the fine British actor.
Overall, this is a well constructed and absorbing film which utilises a stellar cast, strong script and solid direction to create a satisfying yet shattering cinematic experience. By the time it reaches its climax, the infuriating politics and moral ambiguities of war have been well examined , but the manner in which it addresses the emotional and humanistic impact of the mission is what truly resonates. Powerful and entertaining, Eye in the Sky delivers on many levels.