Eye in the Sky (2016)

Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.
– Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman)

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This is a white-knuckled heart-parked-in-your-mouth “tick tock” suspense thriller. Hardly an ounce of fats lined a lean and mean explosive storyline, and this one is going to hit the “career reset” button for Gavin Hood (even though his last effort Ender’s Game is quite decent).

Eye in the Sky stars Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell, a UK-based military officer in command of a top secret drone operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. Through remote surveillance and on-the-ground intel, Powell discovers the targets are planning a suicide bombing and the mission escalates from “capture” to “kill.” But as American pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is about to engage, a nine-year old girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute, reaching the highest levels of US and British government, over the moral, political, and personal implications of modern warfare.

Eye in the Sky towers above Good Kill (2015) on so many levels. They have the same story premise and both are spins on drone warfare, but their similarities end there. I really thought GK was a decent film albeit a tad too heavy on melodrama histrionics and it ultimately became top down heavy in its underlying message of modern warfare. EitS on the other hand is a complete marvel. It is exactly what GK isn’t. It dares to ask probing ethical and moral questions but never cheapens the narrative by giving you broad-stroked answers; it will involve you totally and absolutely. We go through a minefield of moral conundrums and nobody will come out unscathed. The script is exceptionally probing and showcases all the legalistic, moralistic, ethical and political red-tape as parties, seated in situation rooms in different parts of the world (including a toilet), convened to decide whether a Hellfire missile should be launched. We see, almost in real time, the ramifications at every angle, from the innocent bystander, to the terrorists, to the people in suits and to the dude seated in a tiny room, his hands on the red trigger of a joystick. Innocence is indeed the first casualty of war.

Another reason this film shines is its refusal to go down certain genre tropes. You won’t see the guy, who had squeezed the trigger to rain down destruction on collateral innocents, drown in alcohol and sucking in a line of coke. You won’t see a woman going home to hug her toddler to reassure herself that she did the right thing. You won’t see commanders giving you three-point sermons of “it is a dirty job but somebody has to do it so that the world will be a better place”. There is such a raw and unsettling freshness to it. It may be a full-on talkie but I was gripping my arm-rests tightly and my wifey had her palms parked at her mouth, almost literally from the get-go.

The acting is all round immaculate. Helen Mirren shines as a hard-nosed military officer with a tiny soft spot for her underlings. Few actresses can elevate a film just with their presence; Mirren is one for the ages. This must be the best role I have seen Aaron Paul in since Breaking Bad. His role isn’t easy, especially when he is stuck in a gamer’s chair almost throughout the film. His face displays so much range that you would feel his internal turmoil as his omniscient eye calculates whether it will be a good kill. Barkhad Abdi, last seen as the baddie in Captain Phillips, has a superb turn as an operative on the ground, proving he is not a fluke. This is also Alan Rickman’s final acting role and I literally count down the minutes that he will disappear from the big screen. The utterly memorable line he delivers with that quietly supercilious voice of his send chills down my spine. I am going to miss this fine actor.

Eye in the Sky is superbly cerebral and morally thought-provoking; a suspense thriller for intelligent people. It is impossible to come out of this 102-minute film and not have your soul shattered in some way. This is one of those films you shouldn’t watch alone because you would immediately want to discuss with someone which side of the fence you would sit on and count the dire consequences. Is there even a right side?
4.5 / 5

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