Eye in the Sky
Eye in the Sky is a 2016 British thriller film starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul and Barkhad Abdi. The film is directed by Gavin Hood and based on a screenplay by Guy Hibbert. Filming began in South Africa in September 2014.
Eye in the Sky stars Helen Mirren as a UK army Colonel and Alan Rickman as her commanding General, 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 actions on the ground trigger an international dispute, reaching the highest levels of US and British government, over the moral, political, and personal implications of modern warfare. As taut as it is timely, Eye in the Sky offers a powerfully acted, and unusually thought provoking, variation on the modern wartime political thriller.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was distributed in the United States with a limited release on 11th March 2016. The film was released in the United Kingdom on 8th April 2016. It was the actor Alan Rickman's last film, and is one of two national posthumous releases starring Rickman, who died of pancreatic cancer in January 2016.
The film has received very positive reviews. Alan Rickman's performance as Lieutenant General Frank Benson has been particularly well received by critics, with Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times saying "Mr. Rickman was never nominated for an Academy Award and it's probably a long shot for a posthumous supporting actor for this film - but his work here is a reminder of what a special talent he possessed."
Rickman as Lt General Frank Benson
Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell
The film has received very positive reviews. It holds a 92% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 96 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10.
The critical consensus reads: "As well as the moral dilemma at the heart of the film, Eye In The Sky is a first-class thriller. It’s riveting viewing that will have audiences collectively holding their breath during its many tension-filled scenes. It’s also a showcase for talented actors to sell the high stakes of the game, despite the fact their characters are mostly safely ensconced in a comfortable room, sitting on a leather chair and thousands of miles away from the fray.
Director Gavin Hood has achieved something few could — he made what is essentially 100 minutes of people standing in rooms and staring at screens incredibly compelling. It’s a master class in suspense."
The Guardian - Benjamin Lee
Eye in the Sky is first and foremost a thriller. but it’s main objective is to involve us in the action, not have us constantly being told what to think and when to think it. Hood has relied on terse and efficient storytelling to showcase the intricate morality of drone warfare and takes us through one very long and very stressful day in the lives of those tasked with making life or death decisions.
The focus is the hunt for key members of terrorist group al-Shabaab in the wake of the Nairobi shopping mall attack. After intel points at a meeting between three key members, a mission is launched to capture, or maybe kill, those involved. We witness the events unfold via a set of different locations and an intriguingly varied set of actors.
Helen Mirren plays a hard-edged Colonel stationed at a Northwood army base, Aaron Paul is a fresh-faced drone pilot in Nevada, Alan Rickman is a Lieutenant General surrounded by warring politicians in London and Captain Phillips Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi is an agent on the ground in Kenya.
But despite the ensemble cast, screenwriter Guy Hibbert refrains from filling in gaps that don’t need to be filled. Spare a couple of minor touches, backstory is absent. These are real people dealing with a situation that doesn’t allow for asides about their childhood or who’s waiting for them at home. Characters are revealed through their actions rather than via clunky monologues.
While it’s often tough for Hood to add much style to the stagey set of one-room locations, he does achieve some seat-edge suspense in a number of bravura sequences. Effortlessly switching between continents and maintaining authenticity in each, he ramps up the tension as morality is pitted against necessity with quick yet fateful choices being made. The intricacy and bureaucracy of these moments feels frustratingly real.
With the focus on the escalating drama, performances are unshowy. Mirren is reliably stern and it’s refreshing to see her in a role such as this, playing a character who, in a more Hollywoodised version, would undoubtedly be played by either a younger woman or a man.
The Philadelphia Inquirer - Molly Eichel
Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has been hunting two Islamic extremists for a year, one a British citizen formerly named Susan Danford (Lex King). Finally, she gets enough intel to deduce that they will be in Nairobi to recruit a British and American teen to their cause. Powell sets in motion a drone surveillance mission that is meant to help capture those she has spent so much time watching. But circumstances soon escalate, and her goal is no longer to capture, but to kill.
In her single-minded mission, Powell brings together men and women in uniform far away – an American drone pilot (Aaron Paul) and his new partner (Phoebe Fox), plus a group of high-level British officials (including Alan Rickman in his final screen performance) – who will ultimately decide the fate of Powell’s targets, as well as that of the little girl, who wanders into the drone strike space to sell bread.
The possibility of death or grave injury as collateral damage is debated back and forth. Is it OK to potentially kill a little girl if it means saving so many more people in the future?
'Eye in the Sky' is about the effects of fighting a war from the comfort of our home countries, rather than on the ground.
On one hand, the troops get to sit in safe zones on military bases, staring at computer screens. Higher-ups can pass the buck because the immediacy of war is not felt. The military’s goal – get the target – is so much more singular when the consequences feel so removed from human life. When it’s all over, they get to go home.
But, as Rickman’s Lt. Gen. Benson says, “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.” Paul’s Steve Watts may get to go back to his Las Vegas apartment, but that does not mean the weight of what he has done all night does not come home with him.
'Eye in the Sky' is best when it delves into the moral ambiguity of war, especially war’s new gray zones. Its scenes of these ambiguous military actions – mostly viewed on screen and through Orwellian cameras that can secretly make their way into private homes – work especially well because of the performances from the ensemble cast.
Mirren is icy and fierce. Rickman brings both levity and sorrow to his role as a soldier who has seen war from both sides: the conference room and battlefield. Paul, who was so good at playing tense scenes in 'Breaking Bad', perfectly conveys what it is like to push a button and know that you’re responsible for the death of countless people, many of whom had no idea they should not have gone to the market that day.
'Eye in the Sky' is disturbing, but it’s also balanced and ambivalent about what is right. If there’s one stance the movie firmly takes, it’s that no matter how far away people are from the battlefield, no one comes away unscathed.