Starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Cert: 12A Running Time: 102 minutes
Speaking recently, Helen Mirren said proudly that she doesn’t expect to win any acting awards for Eye in The Sky – it wasn’t why she took the part, citing instead her belief in the importance of the subject matter and the story that screenwriter Guy Hibbert (Omagh, Prime Suspect) had to tell. Mirren however, is stunning in the role of Col. Katherine Powell and it’s her staggeringly good performance that anchors the tension, drama and moral questions at the heart of the film. Mirren as always succeeds in making her work seem effortless, a testament to her wonderful talent, especially in a film where the dialogue is spread across a succession of players, in different rooms, in different parts of the world.
Set almost in real-time, the film unfolds like an episode of 24 minus the visual ticking clock, as Powell commands a British mission using US drones and Kenyan intelligence on the ground to track down and capture a number of wanted terrorists outside Nairobi. All is well until they realise, thanks to local operative Jama Farah (played brilliantly by Barkhad Abdi) that the suspects are not there merely to plot, but to engage two recruits on an imminent suicide mission. Powell seeks to escalate the mission from capture to assassination via the ‘hellfire’ weapons on the drone and it is the machinations of the legal, moral, political and ethical landscape of war that make this fascinating to watch.
Various moral questions feed up the ‘kill chain’ from military, to UK and US politicians, with no-one it seems willing to hit the strike button against the outcome of possible collateral damage. The question of what one life is worth versus scores at the hands of terrorists permeates the debate as the window of strike time shrinks by the second. Though the film is close set, switching from one room and one debate to another, it’s a riveting affair elevated by a great cast, each bringing their A game. The late Alan Rickman is wonderful as General Benson, more at ease sanctioning missions that picking out a present for his grandchild. Joining him on the British side both Jeremy Northam and GOT’s Iain Glenn excel as politicians faced with difficult decisions, while across the Atlantic, Aaron Paul is the plucky Nevada based drone pilot with a conscience, willing to follow orders only when every last i is dotted and t crossed. With few lines, he expertly steers not only the ‘eye in the sky’ of the title but the emotions of the audience as ultimately the man who must squeeze the trigger to strike.
South African director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Ender’s Game), who also appears here as Paul’s senior officer, has fashioned a compelling morality tale, a taut thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat whilst engaging your mind and your own conscience as to which moral side of the fence you would be on. With reportedly 10,000 drones in the air around the world in any minute, one can only begin to wonder what missions they provide eyes and strike capability for that we are completely oblivious to. Nail-biting stuff!