By Thomas Simpson
The absurdities of war tend to be played out on the big screen with great spectacle. There is no questioning the impact a brilliant film like Saving Private Ryan can have, however wars are fought differently these days. Technology allows for assaults to be executed thousands of miles from the intended target. Director Gavin Hood explores modern combat in Eye in the Sky, an intense British thriller with a great cast including the late Alan Rickman’s final onscreen performance.
Colonel Katherine Powell, a no-nonsense Helen Mirren, is commanding a mission to capture high-level extremists, including two radicalized US and Britain civilians, from a village in Nairobi, Kenya. When the intelligence changes, she requests the mission objective be changed from capture to kill however the British politicians witnessing via camera feed are hesitant to authorize due to the potential negative backlash from the public. They are supervised by Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) who is the liaison between the officials and the army. The situation becomes more conflicted when the US drone pilot, Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), has moral objections to firing a missile that will cause certain death to a local girl Alia (Aisha Takow) who will be caught in the blast zone.
Eye in the Sky is a nail-biting thriller that had me gripping my seat throughout. The conflict between the characters is brilliantly frustrating as Hood focuses on the incredible ramifications that this one decision will have. Moral arguments do battle with political cowardice as Powell remains stoic and at times vengeful. She believes the end justifies the means, but as a soldier the decision is not hers alone.
The drama is contained to four separate locations, Powell’s command base, Benson’s war room, Watts’ drone cockpit and Ali’s village. Despite the four actors having lead roles, none of them met during production. Their lack of onscreen presence adds an unusual chemistry, an unfamiliar absence that is necessary. In the case of Alia, she is blissfully unaware that her fate is being decided by an unknown enemy. It’s an uncomfortable detachment.
The brutality of modern combat is on show and it isn’t done with violence, it’s done by discussion. Hood creates a debate that will likely split audience opinion on the right course of action. A thought provoking and nerve shredding film, Eye in the Sky is a finely-crafted thriller that offers excitement without extravagant set pieces.