Eye In The Sky, review - Drone warfare in a darkly humorous fashion

Eye In The Sky (15) Gavin Hood, 102 mins, starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman

Geoffrey Macnab
Wednesday 13 April 2016 13:25
Helen Mirren plays Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya
Helen Mirren plays Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya

Hood’s subtle and very tense thriller boasts an imperious and fiery performance from a khaki-clad Helen Mirren as home counties-based military intelligence officer, Colonel Katharine Powell. She is co-ordinating a drone operation to capture Al Shabab terrorists in Nairobi. The other officers all call her “ma’am,” as if she is their queen as well as their commanding officer.

Unless a decision is made quickly, the high value terrorists planning a suicide bombing may get away. The hitch is that the politicians, the military and the drone operators are all lost in their own moral mazes. No-one wants the responsibility for a mission that might go wrong and result in civilian death, bad headlines and legal retribution, especially as one of the terrorists is a British national.

Guy Hibbert’s screenplay probes away at the ethics of drone warfare in a darkly humorous fashion.

There is a wonderful turn from the late Alan Rickman in his final screen role as a sardonic but very sharp witted British Lieutenant-Colonel, who is wrangling the politicians as they defer making a decision and all try to push the responsibility upwards. They don’t want blood on their hands. Mirren’s character has a conviction that they lack.

The film (produced by Colin Firth) is very suspenseful in a Hitchcock-like way. It contrasts the decorous surroundings of the London base at which the politicians sit around sipping coffee and eating biscuits with the plight of their agent in Nairobi (Barked Abdi), who is trying to manoeuvre a beetle-sized bug into the house where the terrorists are conferring. Thousands of miles away in Nevada, the drone operators (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox) are sitting at computer controls, wondering just when they might be asked to launch a hellfire mission. The filmmakers also throw in a tremendous chase scene over sals and down alleyways of Nairobi.

At times, the storytelling is overly schematic. The dialogue is heavy on military jargon and acronyms. Characters speak incessantly of GBU12s and PIDs. What’s refreshing, though, is how nuanced the film’s approach remains.There is no simple minded resolution here and it is inevitable that there will be blood on somebody’s hands by the final reel.

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