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‘Eye In The Sky’ Targets Tricky Subject Matter (Movie Review)

eye in the sky posterIn an age where drone warfare has become a go-to topic for many action blockbusters dabbling in societal commentary, Eye in the Sky pauses everything to go over what it means to carry out one drone mission. With a fine cast in place, director Gavin Hood manages to build plenty of tension over the course of 90 minutes where characters debate whether or not to press a button.  Working well to provide insight on the legalities of these matters, I found the level of engagement with this film to be quite high.

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Helen Mirren stars as Colonel Powell, a military intelligence officer leading a drone mission to capture a terrorist group in Kenya. New information reveals a suicide attack to be imminent, leading to a new objective involving the bombing of these terrorists. Things are complicated further when American drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) spots a young girl in the kill zone, causing a dispute concerning the legal and ethical rights to proceed.

Despite being a solid effort that continually keeps this film energized and tense, as we await some sort of result, a tonal issue did raise some questions. Eye in the Sky reminded me of 1964’s Cold war films Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove. Both dealt with the ramifications of nuclear warfare to a similar degree, but widely differed in tone. Eye in the Sky resembles Fail Safe, as it is a serious look at a situation, but I couldn’t help but think the look at drone warfare would have worked better as a satire, much like Dr. Strangelove.

While there are a few exciting scenes in Kenya that feel like Hood or writer Guy Hibbert appeasing some sort of mandate to add action before the climax, the majority of the film revolves around Mirren, Paul, Alan Rickman (his final live-action film role), Jeremy Northam and Iain Glen making the necessary phone calls and having the required conversations and debates seeking approval of how to proceed. There is an inherent sense of humor in repeating certain legal requirements and seeing the exasperated faces of many involved, which would have went a long way in a film more inclined to be sly about what is taking place.

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Eye in the Sky is not devoid of humor, as there are some acknowledgements of how irritating it is to deal with a chain of command in the moment of need, regardless of what the results will be. However, there is more to take away from what we read on the faces of the individual actors. Some feel overdone compared to what reality would seem like (Paul’s character unfortunately suffers); while others are just right (the veteran actors easily shine brightest).

Reactions aside though, the film gets a level of credit for not having a direct stance on what is the ‘right’ decision. Viewers may have already chosen a side from the beginning or leave believing that certain characters were the true villains, but Hood keeps the film mostly in the center. One could likely make an assertion as how Hood views things, but I do admire the effort brought to making it more complicated than shading one side as being wrong.

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From a production standpoint, this film feels quite accomplished. Hood, a native to South Africa, the setting of his Oscar-winning film Tsotsi, filmed Eye in the Sky in the same location, with visual effects used to display the drones.  This is all a way of saying I am happy Hood can take a step back from the bigger films he was involved with (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender’s Game) and deliver something even more engrossing. Eye in the Sky is not a big movie, but it has big actors and a big topic to go over, which is presented with fine cinematic craftsmanship.

With a good eye on presenting timely subject matter and balancing the situation with satisfying thrills, Eye in the Sky earns its praise. I admire its choice to disregard leaning on a certain side, even if the film misses an opportunity to be craftier with its tone. Given all the other films coming out that only toy with what the consequences of drone strikes are, this was a solid effort to explore that idea with a different approach.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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