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Review: Eye in the Sky

Helen Mirren stars in Bleecker Street's EYE IN THE SKY

With modern weaponry, war has changed. It then makes sense that war movies have changed too. Gone are the days of trenches and pining over the dame back home. The rise of drones, international alliances, and the never ending battle against terrorists has left us with a perpetual war of technology and not brawn. Eye In The Sky takes us inside the many facets of these new military initiatives and shows the new weight of war.

Starting her day outside of London, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) pats her dog, and then goes to pour over all of the surveillance photos of her current terrorist targets. She soon reports to her military base to lead an international mission in Kenya to capture two radicalized Americans and one British woman. The terrorist organization Al Shabaab controls one militarized neighborhood there and Powell’s intelligence believes that the ex-patriots will be there soon. Though Eye In The Sky acknowledges Powell as the commander of the mission, it balances her screen time with that of the other involved parties.

Stateside, officers Watts (Aaron Paul) and Gershon (Phoebe Fox) are the team flying the drone which is monitoring the whole operation, and is armed to carry out the attack. They are the mission’s “eyes in the sky.” There are also local intelligence officers in Kenya and a military unit in waiting nearby, and the British government officials (including Alan Rickman). Everyone involved in the day’s mission is important and each of them need each other to be successful.

Each of these teams is waiting for their official orders from Powell. She, in turn, needs to get the approval for her attacks from her government. As more information surfaces the operation changes its mission, and the red tape gets thicker. Waiting for bureaucracy to catch up to the military is painstaking, but understandable. In fact, the film does an excellent job of remaining neutral on who is right or wrong in each scenario. Other than demonizing the terrorists, Eye In The Sky is sympathetic to the complexity of the situation and the weight of every minor decision.

Eye in the Sky effectively balances tension with interesting gadgets. The drone shots are poorly animated CGI, but the capability of the device is fascinating. Seeing the coordination across several teams, located in many countries, all focusing on this single drone is harrowing. The local intelligence team in Kenya has an even tinier remote controlled device that looks just like a large wasp. It can fly into buildings and peer through windows without any of its targets noticing.

Beyond the governmental bickering and the futuristic gadgetry, Eye In The Sky tackles some massive ethical issues. Drone technology is so new to war we have yet to work out what the political and ethical obligations are. If military intelligence knows that an attack is imminent, how many lives can it take to prevent the attack? How certain do you need to be to strike? Without hitting the audience over the head with the morality issues, the film manages to ask all these questions without posing any real answers.

Eye in the Sky is not an easy film to watch. Though it is emotionally manipulative and comes close to over-dramatic, it never becomes flamboyant. It raises far more questions than it answers. All this being said, it is a welcome engagement with the current state of war. The rules of engagement have changed and exposing audiences to these new complexities help them keep up with the times and have a deeper understanding of the current intricacies of military engagements.

Rating: R

Director: Gavin Hood

Helen Mirren
Aaron Paul
Alan Rickman
Barkhad Abdi
Jeremy Northam
Iain Glen
Phoebe Fox

Film Length: 102 minutes

Release Date: March 18, 2016

Distributor: Bleecker Street

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