New release EYE IN THE SKY is a film about the morality and the costs of war, but it stars Helen Mirren as a colonel, Alan Rickman in his last screen appearance, and fan favorites Aaron Paul and Barked Abdi. So, is it worth trekking out to the multiplex for?
EYE IN THE SKY stars an ensemble cast headed up by Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell who is in command of a top-secret drone operation to arrest terrorists she finds in Kenya, aided by teams in both the US and Nairobi. They discover the targets there are about to dispatch suicide bombers, and the mission escalates from capture to kill. In the US, drone pilot Steve Watts, played by Aaron Paul, discovers a nine-year-old girl entering the kill zone to sell bread, which starts a political dispute involving the US and British governments. Alan Rickman as Lieutenant General Frank Benson has to mediate between members of the government and the Powell’s military team, while they all weigh one child’s life against the near certainty of a vastly larger body count should the suicide bombers survive long enough to discharge their weapons.
Aaron Paul as the American drone pilot Steve Watts thrown into a moral quandary about killing the girl as collateral damage, finally gets a role where he shows his depth and subtlety as an actor. Helen Mirren, playing a commanding role originally meant for a man, is entirely believable and elicits respect from the audience. Hood’s choice of using Mirren, smartly opens up the conversation to a larger audience, effectively at once removing gender from the equation and creating interest in the film from her substantial female fanbase.
Alan Rickman uses black humor as only he can, and leverages his talent at nuance in nearly every scene, making EYE IN THE SKY a worthy last screen appearance. One of his final lines rivals his famed Galaxy Quest and Harry Potter quotes. Though a supporting role, fans of his will want to see him show his genius onscreen once more.
Gavin Hood has entrusted director of photography Haris Zambarloukos, of Cinderella, Locke, and Thor, and production designer Johnny Breedt, of Hotel Rwanda and Mandela, with the creation of the visual palette. There is quite a diversity of environments, from an underground bunker-like control center, to the kill zone in the slums of Nairobi. It’s impressive the EYE IN THE SKY production artists of can bring these desperate locations, all filmed in and around Cape Town, South Africa, together into visual cohesion.
As entertaining and suspenseful as it may be, EYE IN THE SKY asks more questions than it answers, and that’s a good thing. We are at a time where much of how warfare is waged is rapidly changing. Those ordering a strike, or pulling the trigger are experiencing a very different kind of pressure, intense stress, and sometimes a more profound sense of guilt. With EYE IN THE SKY, audiences are left wondering what choices they would make in the same position. These are questions we should all be asking ourselves.
A because it is SUCH a pleasure to have a complex, well acted, visually sophisticated film that both entertains and brings up questions. A minus because, as a tiny issue I wish the ending were more ambiguous. Still it IS a must-see for all Mirren and Rickman fans as well as those who appreciate a film with a little more going on than just explosions.