Watching Eye in the Sky will infuriate you to no end, no matter what political stance you hold going in. That comes largely from the fact it’s chiefly a political film, and, as shown by our good friend Mr. Trump, politics tend to upset people. It’s a complex, fascinating movie that’s hard to pin down. There are laugh out loud moments followed by ones of quiet suspense. Scenes that elicit empathy are followed by ones of righteous anger. Political Satire probably best describes the movie, but then again it doesn’t truly do the film’s themes or content justice. Eye in the Sky is a war movie with little action. It’s a horror movie with little bloodshed. It’s a comedy with little joy. At its core, Eye in the Sky is just a lot of people talking, all trying not to have to make a hard decision; it’s also incredibly compelling.
Eye in the Sky follows an inter-governmental terrorist capture operation in Kenya, and the many ways in which it goes awry.The outfit is led by the British Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) and about 8 other officers working with her in the war room. She though, of course, is not solely in charge of the operation. Powell answers directly to British Lieutenant General Frank Benson (played by the late great Alan Rickman). Benson throughout the film is surrounded by British officials and politicians, all of which have their own agendas and moral stances. Powel directly commands 2 main things: American Air Force pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), who controls a drone from a shed in Las Vegas and Sergeant Mushtaq Saddiq (Babou Ceesay), commander of the actual capture unit in Kenya. There is also an American facial recognition specialist operating out of Hawaii, two key soldiers in Kenya, and a little girl selling bread in Kenya (but more on that in a moment).
The situation complicates further when the terrorists move to a new location for their meeting, and further when they start equipping themselves with suicide vests, and even further when a little girl sells bread right next to the building, complicating the drone strike option. Through it all the characters argue about what the right thing to do is, and no one wanting to take responsibility for a drone strike.
The film is paced excellently and with precision. Every scene is masterfully executed, in no hurry to shock the audience or reveal what will happen. The film rather lets us, the audience, suffer through the indecision and ambiguity, squirming in our seats with anticipation. The suspense caliber is almost something out of a Hitchcock movie: in the execution, the patience, the payoff. It’s nice to see this sort of filmmaking nowadays, the type that requires an engaged and intelligent audience.
Helen Mirren is a commanding central lead, delivering each line with enough conviction, passion, and ethos to thoroughly ground the film. Without Mirren, the film could have perhaps strayed into the realm of unbelievable parody. She is a large reason the movie works and fits together so well. Aaron Paul delivers a lot of pathos, performing in one of the most human and emotional roles of his career. Alan Rickman reminds us just why we’ll miss him, playing a cold, logical, and dryly funny character, similar to others he has played. The rest of the cast was great too, even the little girl, but these three actors really stood out.
Eye in the Sky was a great movie, but it did have a few flaws. An obvious one is that some of the smaller characters acted a bit like caricatures, specifically the American characters. I’m not sure if this is a flaw of screenwriting or an intentional point the filmmakers were trying to make. Either way it is a noticeable blemish in the movie. Also, some of the point of view shots from the drones and other equipment were unbelievable to put it lightly. A robotic beetle flying shouldn’t have such stable footage streaming from it when going through wind. Of course, the filmmakers had to take a few liberties to deliver the movie they wanted to, and I don’t necessarily fault them for it, but this detail nagged at me throughout the whole film.
In the end, it’s their indecision that will frustrate you. You will probably side with one party at the beginning, as I did, and become increasingly angry at the characters with contradictory views, the ones that prevent progress. What Eye in the Sky does so well though, is not vilify or commend any characters. The situation is complicated and messed up; there seems not to be a single right answer about how to respond. In the end, every character tries to do the best thing that they can, but it’s not enough. This intercharacter struggle suggests many deep thematic topics. It suggests that war is terrible, evil, there is nothing right or good about it, but also it’s a necessary evil that cannot, unfortunately, be avoided. It’s a compelling piece of cinema, one that kept me on the edge of my seat, and overall I would rate it 9/10.