EYE IN THE SKY
London-based military intelligence officer Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is remotely commanding a top secret drone operation to capture a group of dangerous terrorists from their safe house in Nairobi, Kenya. The mission suddenly escalates from a "capture" to a "kill" operation when Powell realises that the terrorists are about to embark on a deadly suicide mission. American drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is poised to destroy the safe house when a nine year old girl enters the kill zone just outside the walls of the house. With unforeseen collateral damage now entering the equation, the impossible decision of when to strike gets passed up the "kill chain" of politicians and lawyers as the seconds tick down.
Review by Louise Keller:
The cost of war is the theme of this gripping drone warfare thriller in which protocol, propaganda and consequences play key roles. Although the action at the centre of the storyline takes place at arm's length and far beyond the dialogue, there is a build up of tension as anticipation for the missile launch mounts. We are flies on the wall as we observe the tense interactions and await approval for the action: for orders to be given and to learn the consequences if the rules of engagement cannot be met. Director Gavin Hood (Ender's Game) has created a nail-biting thriller in which we are on the edge of our seats as process hinders progress and an unforeseen event changes the stakes.
Capture not kill is the mission that Helen Mirren's Colonel Katherine Powell heads remotely from warehouse headquarters. The terrorist targets are numbered high on UK and US Most Wanted Lists and the opportunity is now. But what is the chain of command and who can make the ultimate decision that turns a capture mission into one that kills?
We learn much about all the players by the way they react in this tense situation. Colonel Powell is focused on her objectives: she has been tracking her target for six long years, determined to facilitate the action at any cost. But there are rules to follow although there are also ways to bend the rules. As protocols are confronted, we feel as though we are playing pass the parcel: bureaucrats whose seal of approval need to be garnered pass the buck. Alan Rickman (in his final role) brings gravitas to his role of Lieutenant General Frank Benson and when Jeremy Northam's Foreign Secretary takes off his coat in the London meeting room, we understand that it is not the weather that is making him sweat. As part of the 'kill chain', there is angst and pressure as the situation escalates.
The action flits from the central location in Kenya where the terrorists are holed up in preparation for their strike to England, China, Singapore and Nevada, where the drone pilot (Aaron Paul) is poised to press the trigger. Catalyst for much of the debate is the unexpected presence of a young native girl (Aisha Takow), who is selling bread close to the targeted house. The epitome of the innocent victim, the moral dilemma begins.
We watch in fascination as a tiny fly-like drone is manipulated inside the house in Nairobi where the terrorists are meeting. As the imminent nature of the planned suicide attacks become evident and the potential death rate grows, the pressure escalates. We also become involved in the fate of the 'man on the ground' (Barkhad Abdi is well cast; who can forget his distinctive face as the pirate in Captain Phillips), whose personal safety becomes threatened.
Involving from the get-go, this is one of those films that goes a long way to show that the mind games are often far more powerful than any action can be. Can the protocol requirements be met? Will mass killing be avoided? And what of the collateral damage and the little girl whose only crime is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Full of excruciating truths about impossible choices in war, Guy Hibbert's screenplay is a searing, gripping and heart wrenching work that is superbly transposed from page to screen by a fabulous cast in the hands of a director who knows his craft. It confronts us with questions about our own responses to situations that have no upsides. Which decision would you take: risk killing a young girl you can see but probably save the lives of dozens who you can't. Nothing is certain, except the need to make a decision.
Hibbert gives us one scenario of how such decisions might be made, and it's an authentic one, reverberating with the reluctance of the political class to make a decision the military faces every day. Military like Lt General Frank Benson, played by the late Alan Rickman in his last role in a feature film where we see him. (He voices Blue Caterpillar in Alice Through The Looking Glass for director James Bobin, due for 2016 release.) Benson's deeply felt parting line "Never tell a soldier the true cost of war," is an apt reflection on what this powerful film portrays as life and death decisions are juggled between the rules of engagement, domestic and international politics and the laws of war. Laws, incidentally, that are adhered to by the US and UK military here, albeit with some compromise - the compromise on which our emotional engagement pivots.
Aaron Paul plays Steve Watts, the young soldier who has to pull the trigger of the remote controlled missile, with a clear view of the target on his screen - including the 'collateral damage'; Helen Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell who is running the operation against known terrorists finally located in a Nairobi house, with the burden of the stakes most heavily on her shoulders. Back in London, sitting around a table with computers and satellite images from the situation in Nairobi are Benson and politicians such as Attorney General George Matheson (Richard McCabe), the Minister Brian Woodale (Jeremy Northam) and political advisor Angela Northman (Monica Dolan) who is adamant that it is best to not risk the little girl's safety - irrespective of the possibility of other deaths.
All these performances - and indeed all the other performances and they all contribute greatly - are outstanding. The characters' inner conflicts over the moral and ethical dilemmas are perfectly clear and we are drawn into their world.
Taking us inside a drone-led operation, we see that remote control killing in war is not like playing a video game; it is emotionally traumatising. Decisions are not made lightly. Consequences are often uncontrollable. And every plan can be thwarted by happenstance.
It's an intelligent screenplay, devoid of cheap shots, keen to explore the human condition at its most challenged. A dynamic and immersive war movie about today's terrified world, Eye In The Sky is a challenge to the cafe cynics who have the freedom to criticise without the responsibility to act.
Email this article
EYE IN THE SKY (M)
CAST: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Iain Glen, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Phoebe Fox
PRODUCER: Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, David Lancaster
DIRECTOR: Gavin Hood
SCRIPT: Guy Hibbert
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Haris Zambarloukos
EDITOR: Megan Gill
MUSIC: Paul Hepker, Mark Kilian
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Johnny Breedt
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: eOne
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 24, 2016