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Review: Eye In The Sky – “A wonderful film about an important issue”

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eye in the sky

Every once in a while a perfect thriller comes along. A perfect thriller isn’t necessarily a masterpiece that will change your life, or win major awards, but with a great narrative premise, it does everything it should with panache, proficiency and drama. Eye in the Sky is a perfect a thriller, a film everyone should experience. You want everyone to see it for two reasons: 1) they’re almost certainly guaranteed to enjoy it 2) you want to open the discussion up and talk about the issues within the film. At the heart of Eye in the Sky is a miasma of legal, moral and political uncertainties that makes for both exciting spectacle and a thoughtful, balanced consideration of contemporary warfare, allegiance, ethics and politics.

The film is a ‘day-in-the-life’ inside perspective of an operation to capture and, potentially, kill a collection of high-target terrorists in Kenya. Helen Mirren is the Colonel running the operation in a London military bunker; Alan Rickman is the overseeing General in Whitehall, negotiating with the politicians during the operation; Aaron Paul is the everyman drone pilot in Nevada, USA, who may be the one asked to release a missile; and on the ground in Kenya is Barkhad Abdi as a Kenyan undercover agent and the Kenyan special forces waiting for Euro-American orders. They all play their part in a single operation over a long day in which morality, conscience, security, hypotheticals and legality is thrown back-and-forth between the intercontinental groups as they debate the best course of action. By the end of the film, it remains another day at the office and a stunning cinematic experience.

Director Gavin Hood previously explored the ethics of contemporary armchair warfare warfare in his severely underrated sci-fi film, Enders Game. But clearly allegory and the veil of glossy spectacle had re-directed the theme, and he’s gone directly to the world of here and now. Despite the undeniably political dimensions of a topic that is vehemently contested, you can’t attack this film ideologically. It is an intricately balanced portrayal that feels real. No one character comes across as evil or good. The military characters are naturally eager to strike – their priority is security and minimising risk. The politicians are constantly referring up on decision making, who then refer back down, all attempting to avoid responsibility. The military are maybe too trigger-happy, but the politicians ask the military to wage war and then criticise them if their tactics make them look bad. It’s a sticky, bureaucratic situation in which responsibility is avoided and thus individual conscience dissipates into the wind. Why blame yourself when you can blame the apparatus? This is a scenario that grips you entirely and feels completely authentic.

Every actor is first-rate here. Helen Mirren is ferociously good as Colonel Katherine Powell, a driven Captain Ahab-type eager to hunt her terrorist Moby Dick – a radicalised British national. Casting Mirren as a petrifying Colonel is a virtuoso decision; her association with her role as Queen Elizabeth II, her matured determination and stoic British-ness makes for a fascinating character. Alan Rickman too, whose similarly thespian credentials are on full show in his final live-action film role. He will be sorely missed, and this is a permanent reminder of his vast talent. Barkhad Abdi also proves that his performance in Captain Phillips wasn’t just beginners luck. Having just come from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which the editing felt confused and slapdash, Eye in the Sky is a lesson in virtuoso editing. Megan Gill crafts tension and excitement as Mozart crafted music, seamlessly crossing continents between shots and balancing the intimately human with large scale military operations.

This is a narrative about how war beings at 5am in the morning in our dressing gowns just after coffee, occurs through screens observed in our armchairs, and ends in the evening when we go back home for tea. Put a man on the ground and ask him to execute innocent bystanders, will he do it? Hopefully not. Put him behind a computer amidst a complex, intercontinental system of mechanised warfare, will he then do it? Eye in the Sky presents questions such as these. It’s a wonderful film about an important issue, and its executed estimably. As of now, it’s the best film of the year.

 

5-out-of-5

Eye in the Sky is in UK cinemas on 15th April 2016.

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