Wednesday, March 09, 2016

“Eye In The Sky”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new war drama, “Eye In The Sky”, starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and the late Alan Rickman. 


When the British military attempts to capture a group of terrorists, it’s discovered they’re planning a suicide bombing – but can the military change their mission to kill them instead?


Terrorist organization al Shabaab is making inroads throughout eastern Africa -- so much so that the nation of Kenya has engaged both the United Kingdom and United States governments for assistance in combating them.  British Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) is in charge of coordinating various drone missions throughout the region to spy on members of the group; on this particular mission, she’s coordinating with the American military where Las Vegas-based drone pilot Steve Watts (Paul) is stationed for both surveillance and identification of the various terrorists.  The plan is to capture this group so they may be interrogated to gain further information about their organization.

As the mission proceeds, surveillance is able to view inside the building where the terrorists are headquartered and it is found out they have explosive vests which they are apparently planning to detonate in an upcoming suicide bombing.  Once Powell escalates this to her General (Rickman), she gets permission to alter the scope of the mission from “capture” to “kill”; now, instead of merely performing an identification of the suspects, Watts is instead tasked with the responsibility of dropping a Hellfire missile on the building in order to take out the terrorists before they can carry out their attack. 

Prior to firing the missile, a CDE (Collateral Damage Estimate) must be performed in order to determine the degree of unintended severe injury and/or loss of life for those not being targeted; the estimate reveals that there is a 65-75% chance of Collateral Damage occurring.  Just as they are ready to drop the Hellfire, surveillance finds a little girl just outside the building selling loaves of bread to help support her family.  With the likelihood of killing a child raising the stakes, Watts is reluctant to fire the missile.  Can the military officers get approval from their superiors to proceed with eliminating the targets or will they be forced to set the terrorists free to potentially kill many more people?   


“Eye In The Sky” is one of those rare movies that’s a pleasure to review for the simple reason that it’s as close to flawless as you can possibly get.  Guy Hibbert’s screenplay was clearly well-researched, Gavin Hood’s directing style maintains a good deal of suspense all throughout and the acting is sheer perfection.  This is one of those films that will have people talking afterwards because the “heroes” and “villains” will vary based on your own personal perspective and political ideology.  Although Mirren is the big star here, she shows enough of a dark side to make you wonder if she is in fact heroic. 

Although “Eye In The Sky” is well under two hours, it sometimes creates the impression that it’s slow – this is done intentionally to get across to the viewer the frustration the military experiences in the various legal and government bureaucracies in which it frequently finds itself while conducting a war.  This is where the movie excels – it does not make a villain out of the military, but rather a victim.  At the same time that it indicts military policies, it is also indicting government bureaucracy – a truly difficult task, brilliantly executed.

After the screening, there was a question and answer session with director Gavin Hood.  Hood was extremely personable and came across as well versed on the details of drone warfare; he said that statistics show higher incidents of PTSD in drone pilots than in traditional fighter pilots.  Originally, the script was written with Mirren’s character as a man, but it was changed to a woman in order to have more diverse voices represented.  According to Hood, the script had been circulating for about five years before it actually got produced; among the many screenplays he reads, Hood claimed this was one that affected him most deeply. 

Eye in the Sky (2015) on IMDb

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