Review: Eye in the Sky

Alan Rickman's last film came out recently - William Leng reviews

3rd May 2016

While some entertain the popular adage that ‘war never changes’, the same cannot be said for films of its genre. 2014’s Fury may have proved there is life yet in the drama of major conflicts past, but it is becoming abundantly clear that there is demand for cinematic debate over the complex ethical questions that political and military yes-men are dealing with in today’s climate. Enter Eye in the Sky, from Gavin Hood, director of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (I know, right?). In this wild departure from the likes of X-Men, Hood has exemplified his true talent with a taut, morally labyrinthine portrait of 21st century warfare, even if the budget seems unevenly spent.

Eye in the Sky takes place within a single day. It tells the story of ‘Operation Cobra,’ in which two high value terrorist targets are to be captured in Kenya and brought back to the United Kingdom for trial. When the circumstances unexpectedly change, the military conviction of Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren), Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Lt. General Benson (Alan Rickman) is occluded by a political mire of indecision, putting the whole mission at risk.

"It makes a compelling point: that in real life there are no born villains, there are people, and they are only as villainous as the choices they make"

Every political drama requires balance, especially one as sensitive and contemporary as this. As such, Eye in the Sky’s script is its most valuable asset. So impeccably contoured are the film’s characters that not a single institution, faction or human being emerges on the other side as wholly monstrous, nor morally sound. Each and every character of significance is unmistakably human. It makes a compelling point: that in real life there are no born villains, there are people, and they are only as villainous as the choices they make. This is one of several magnificently well argued points that Eye in the Sky makes.

Another laudable facet of the script is the way in which it illustrates the complexities of modern warfare. Early on there is a brief introduction to the political backdrop of the story in the form of an effective if slightly gimmicky news report. What follows that is an intricately written, and edited, distillation of the ranks of bureaucracy a drone strike actually has to hurdle before it can be executed. When that window of opportunity opens, do you risk the capture or make certain the kill? Does the risk of losing political support and possibly fanning the extremist flame outweigh the value of the lives imminently in danger? Eye in the Sky gives compelling credence to these timely questions of unequivocal gravity.

If I were to have one major qualm with Hood’s film, it is the uneven tone. While the deliberation of terrified politicians is great comedy, the splicing of Homeland’s imperative and The Thick of It’s whimsy is not always easily stomached. While on the subject of television, I might also mention that it seems as if they ran out of money when it came to shooting the film, because it looks about as good as an episode of Doctor Who. Luckily, a strong cast including the final performance from the immense Alan Rickman is able to rescue much of the shoddy framing.

‘In war, truth is the first casualty’. These words are offered in prelude to the film. In cinema, thought is the first casualty. Hood and writer Guy Hibbert, however, leave no man behind.

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