Starring: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul
During an Anglo-American operation lead by Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) and Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Rickman) to capture Al-Shabaab extremists, the extremists are observed by a drone piloted by American pilot Steve Watts (Paul) and inside agents on the ground. However though it started as a mission solely to capture, what they witness ups the stakes, and all involved including military personnel and politicians are faced with some extremely complex moral decisions.
These days thrillers that come from the cinematic mainstream tend to lack intelligence, or indeed any genuine thrills. Well, thankfully Gavin Hood’s modern-day and highly topical war thriller has both in abundance, and thanks to the tightly written script and excellent performances it is a deeply engaging film that grips increasingly tighter until its unforgettable conclusion.
Full credit must go to screenwriter Guy Hibbert as his script stays fully focussed on the narrative’s core themes; though the film itself is naturally dialogue heavy, there is a very effective balance of exposition that manages to be informative and drive the narrative at a suitable pace, without ever being preachy or patronising. We are given a brief introduction as to who Al-Shabaab are just to set the scene for the mission at hand that then takes place for the entire narrative, almost indeed in real time. Though I must confess that while watching Eye in the Sky it did not occur to me that it actually was, as unlike other films it does not advertise the fact it is, and the story is gripping in its own right.
Like its characters, the film never loses focus on the mission at hand; there are a lot of characters to get through, with each one playing their own unique key role within the narrative, and the script skilfully avoids getting bogged down in any character arcs or backstories. This is not a film for those things as it would dilute its main narrative and the themes it encompasses.
Gavin Hood has also managed to assemble a top notch cast who all excel in their various roles. Helen Mirren is of course the biggest name and so dominates the marketing, and is indeed the protagonist of sorts with a slight hint of a backstory. However what we learn about her characteristics is more down to her excellent performance, where even the simplest little bit of body language or delivery of a certain line of dialogue suggests to us the kind of character she is and why she holds a very important senior position.
However, the film is in no way about Helen Mirren’s character, and as previously stated each character gets their own individual moment to shine. Every performance is excellent; making every line of dialogue count and emphasising the crucial importance of every word each character says and decision they make. In what is sadly his last live action screen performance, Alan Rickman is excellent and his final scene and his delivery of the dialogue is one to send shivers down the spine.
Though the characters are as disposable as they indeed would be in this situation in real life, each one does have a key influence in narrative developments and for that reason they are not just forgettable or two-dimensional. There are currently many people in similar positions to these characters making exactly the same deeply complex decisions every day, and while some make the decision from the safety of an office and can just go home at the end of the day, some of course cannot and this is one of the many unnerving themes that the film examines with unforgettable effectiveness. Likewise the fact that no decision is ever simple, as not only are they morally complex decisions in their own right, but also the effects it can have afterwards, namely that in this day and age of technology and social media propaganda is a vital weapon in war.
As the narrative examines its themes and ideas the tension only builds and more and more questions are asked. Many of these remain unanswered in an ending that also serves to be as unnerving as it is haunting, but it is always dealt with in an intelligent, measured and balanced way. Ultimately of course certain narrative moments are slightly exaggerated for the sake of drama and for those that follow current affairs closely (which is likely to be most people who see this film) the film does not present anything particularly new (and an image over the closing credit sequence is unnecessarily patronising). However, as a piece of thrilling, topical drama there is no denying that Eye in the Sky grips tightly from start to finish and render long in the memory of the viewer.
An expertly crafted and deeply effective thriller; Eye in the Sky not only works superbly as a gripping thriller, but also asks the viewer some many pertinent, topical and unnerving questions that will linger long in the mind of the viewer afterwards.