Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in charge of a joint British/American mission to arrest Al-Shabaab militants in Kenya. The drone to provide visual conformation of the suspects is controlled in Nevada by Air Force pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon. (Phoebe Fox) The mission changes when a Kenyan asset on the ground, Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) uses a camera shaped like a beetle to see the militants planning a suicide attack. The drone, now armed with Hellfire missiles, must fire on the compound imminently.
The mission is complicated when a little girl named Alia (Aisha Takow) begins to sell bread in front of the militants’ compound. The British MP’s in charge of overseeing the operation, George Matherson (Richard McCabe) Brian Woodale, (Jeremy Northram) and Angela Northman (Monica Dolan) are already concerned about collateral damage, and the sight of Alia selling bread nearby as they prepare to bomb the compound only heightens that concern. Steve Watts and Carrie Gershon, the drone operators are also concerned. The MP’s avoid making a decision by asking the British Foreign Secretary (Iain Glen) who defers to the Prime Minister. The General in charge of the operation, Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is tired of all the hand-wringing and argues that a lot more than one child will die if they abort this mission. What does the Prime Minster decide? Do the British go ahead with the mission or do they call it off?
I didn’t know whether I would like Eye in The Sky or not, but I did. It was suspenseful and argued both sides of the collateral damage very well. What this movie did extremely well was humanize the concept of collateral damage. Many people think of collateral damage as numbers of people, this movie puts a name and a face with that number, and that makes the decision even harder to make. The viewers see a little girl playing with a hula hoop and that image immediately gives the viewer pause about the efficacy of the drone strike. The ending is effective too, not sugarcoated at all. The girl in front of the militants’ safe house is a little contrived, but most of the movie is very well done. The politicians passing the buck is also true to life, no one wants to be blamed if anything goes wrong. Congratulations to the writers for giving the Kenyan characters some depth and nuance, and not just making them mindless terrorists. That adds to the pleasure of this movie, a serious movie that wants to be taken seriously.
Helen Mirren is very good as Colonel Powell, she has a mission to do, and she wants to do it, but she maintains the stoic nature of her character, and never betrays any emotion, which is very hard to do. Alan Rickman gets a break from playing his usual bad guy roles, Snape in Harry Potter and Hans Gruber in Die Hard. He plays a very logical general, who is looking at the big picture, and not just thinking about his immediate future, it is a great performance. Kudos to the African actors, especially Barkhad Abdi, he was a bad guy in Captain Phillips, but here he is a good guy, under cover who must behave like an ordinary merchant, to keep his cover in-tact. He shows a wide range of emotions in this film, as do the other African actors in this film. Aisha Takow is undoubtedly cute as Alia, the happy-go-lucky girl playing with a hula hoop, and selling bread on the street. The viewer can’t help but empathize with this little girl.
Gavin Hood, who directed Ender’s Game, which I liked a lot, and the fist Wolverine movie, which I also liked. He really paces this movie well, keeps the suspense at the forefront and keeps the viewer guessing throughout. Congratulations also to the casting director too, for casting real African actors to play the Kenyans in the movie. There is no Will Smith doing a bad African accent here. This movie earns an A for authenticity. Colin Firth is a producer here, congratulations to him for bringing a thoughtful, serious film to the screen.
Eye in The Sky: Doesn’t drone on.