Eye In The Sky (2016) (Review)

From the opening title card to the final slow motion credit roll, Eye In The Sky is completely compelling, gripping and immersive viewing; a film the edge of your seat was made for. Refusing to shy away from relevancy, Gavin Hood expertly crafts the events that unfold, almost in realtime, which dissects the ethical, political and legal dilemmas posed by drone strikes against the terrorists using these methods and the civilians caught up in the crossfire. Demonstrating the different sides of these very real consequences and lessons, Eye In The Sky does so with a grit, power and resolution that should be admired.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) leads the 'capture, not kill' mission on a group of suspected terrorists high up on the 'most wanted' list in Nairobi, Kenya. Joined through the powers of the internet by Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) in London, 2nd Lieutenant Steve Watts  (Aaron Paul) in Nevada - who is tasked to fire the missile - and military in Hawaii, as well as field agents including Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi). When the situation because all the more drastic and plans are reevaluated, a decision must be made that will live with them forever, with each individual all the more ready to pass the book to avoid getting the blood of innocent civilians off their hands.

The fear with a film like Eye in The Sky is for it to feel too sporadic and erratic, shoehorning unneeded characters and arguments in, but the director, Gavin Hood, has a tight grasp on the narrative, story and message he wants the film to tell, instead giving it a feeling of claustrophobia. In the wrong hands, this could go very wrong, but in this instance is it effective, reminding the audience of the inescapable dangers of extremism and the high cost war has on everybody - guilt or innocent. Each different setting has its own unique theme and side to argue from, with the characters complex enough to give them emotional ground and stability behind their views and opinions, without ever becoming too dangerous or forceful with it. The film walks an incredible thin and precarious line but gives the audience enough to proactively make their own decisions and have them question their own conscience and decisions, long after they leave the cinema. Thrillers rarely come as taut and tense as this; Eye In The Sky evokes tonal similarities to last year's Sicario by keeping the intensity at fever pitch from beginning until end.

All of this, however, would be worth nothing, if it wasn't supported by an incredible cast. Even with the rotating setting that could feel very off-putting, the strong cast - lead by Mirren - manage to connect and react well with each other, turning in star performances that are unlikely a (very) early talking point for next year's Oscars. Mirren's steely demeanour and commitment to her job role is expertly portrayed, with Rickman's posthumous performance reminding audiences of his phenomenal talent and ability to bring realism and truth to a scene. Paul's emotional complexity is excellently displayed throughout, with his role arguably the most difficult in the film, as his character is required to launch the missile himself, acting as a sensational platform by pouring his emotions into the situation we would all struggle with, along with Phoebe Fox who plays his colleague. Abdi being on the ground brings us in closer to the action, adding a new dimension to explore. Despite not being in the same location at all, the interactions between these characters keep the audience entirely engaged and compelled, something which can only be asked by the most skilful actor.

Having the audience question themselves long after the film credits roll is a testament to how successful the film is; it will certainly stay with me for a while. Whilst delivering its message loud and clear, the film is never forceful and biased in its approach, leaving the audience to decide for themselves right, wrong, good and bad, leaving the grey-area of warfare wide open for interpretation. It offers a genuinely moving climax and is tonally consistent, keeping the audience nothing short of gripped until the fade to black that signifies the end of the film, but certainly not the end of your thoughts and conscience ticking. This clock-ticking drama is timely and relevant, offering something beyond the predictable conventions of a wartime thriller; although stereotypes and prejudices are kept well out of sight.

Summary: Eye In The Sky is a sobering and nail-biting thriller that explores the morality and conscience of drone attacks, all of which is kept taut and tense by the director and bolstered by an incredible cast.

Highlight: I feared the ending would undo all the tension that had built before it, and without giving anything away, it is powerful, moving and emotional, offering a profound insight into the dangers of war, drones, political moves and personal fulfilment.