In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
In a time where wars are fought from the comfort of a boardroom while drones do the dirty work, the moral quandaries of battle are of a decidedly different flavor. Could you pull the trigger knowing that along with enemy casualties a handful of innocents would die with them? This is the dilemma that drives Gavin Hood’s nail-biting thriller, Eye in the Sky. Essentially Mr. Show’s “Change for a Dollar” sketch made into a full length political talkie, we watch as the morality and necessity of a single drone strike is argued between multiple groups of differently motivated military and political figures.
Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) is in charge of an operation to capture a British citizen turned terrorist. If she can positively ID her target, who is currently hiding in a dangerous Kenyan village, she can authorize ground troops to make an arrest. A weaponized drone hovers above the village, providing a live feed to Powell and her crew, but when the camera reveals that her target is preparing to enact a suicide bombing attack, the situation becomes urgent, and what was once a capture mission may turn into a targeted missile strike.
This sudden change in circumstance requires a wealth of bureaucratic finagling. Phone calls, text messages, and heated personal exchanges fuel the narrative drive of the film, which takes place in real time. Equal parts satire, drama, and ticking clock thriller, Eye in the Sky smartly avoids an overt political message, instead choosing to approach the material at a variety of equally viable ethical angles. When the credits roll, the audience is sure to feel just as conflicted as the film’s players.
The ensemble cast includes Aaron Paul as our moralistic trigger man, Barkhad Abdi as our man on the ground, and Alan Rickman in a final performance that reminds us of just how special a talent he was. Rickman is firing on all cylinders here as a high ranking, experienced military man who knows exactly what strings to pull to get his way, but can’t seem to find the right birthday present for his daughter.
Sadly, the uneventful release of Eye in the Skywill doom it to be forgotten, and although it will likely find an audience when it reaches home platforms, this one is worth seeking out on the big screen. Not because of spectacle – there is none – but because there are so few movies like it. It’s simple in construction, high on tension, and achieves a deft tonal flow that really shouldn’t be possible given the urgency of the material. The marriage of script, director, and cast makes this into a fine piece of entertainment that is sure to inspire the precise conversation it sets out to create. If you’re an Alan Rickman fan (a Rickmaniac?) his final role is one of his best.
Eye in the Sky opens today in Philly area theaters.