By: Muneeb Arshid
It’s nice to be finally writing a review after a 3-week vacation with very minimal film viewing. So, it was important that I chose an appropriate and quality film to get myself back in the game. Eye in the Sky hits the mark in many ways, one being that the subject matter of the film is very relevant to the country from which I just came back from vacation. Eye in the Sky deals with many aspects concerning modern drone warfare and importantly the moral issues that surround the use of the system.
What you will know from the trailers and the beginning of the film itself is that Eye in the Sky features a superstar cast with Dame Helen Mirren in the lead as Colonel Katherine Powell, the late, great Alan Rickman in his final live action role as Lieutenant General Frank Benson, Barkhad Abdi as the man on the ground in Kenya, Jama Farsh and Aaron Paul as lead drone pilot Steve Watts. For anyone who goes to the theatres on a regular basis, as we do, would’ve been inundated by the trailer for this film depicting the moral issues the cast, especially Steve Watts, have to deal with in obtaining clearance for a single drone strike.
There isn’t actually a lot to the story with the entire premise being that Col. Powell, through a covert operation in East Africa, has located three high-ranking members of the terrorist group Al-Shabab, 3 members who are #2, 4 and 5 on the East Africa Terror List. After confirmation of the members identity using the “Eye in the Sky” system, Col. Powell wishes to conduct a drone strike after the initial “capture” plan becomes infeasible. However, what she has to deal with for the next hour or so can only be said as being “bureaucratic overload” to authorize the drone strike to kill these members as they prepare for a major terror attack. What the film does very well is to keep the story and the exposition to a minimum and focus on the issues at hand between all these ministers that are involved playing this “game” of politics and bureaucracy. With the bureaucracy in the background, the film is able to focus also on the two pilots of the drone who have a front seat view of what is ahead of them. Along with Aaron Paul’s Watts is first-time pilot Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) who both then have to deal with essentially the aftermath of what it would mean “to pull the trigger”. Eye in the Sky delivers this very political topic in a very unpolitical manner showing the viewer exactly what is involved in conducting a drone strike on a friendly country and the sort of effects it can have on the various individuals that are involved. The film keeps its politics to itself and does not force anyone to take sides in this debate, rather choosing to showcase evidence from both sides and informing the viewer of the steps that are required for such a major decision.
What puts everything together in this film is the casting decision. The mixture of using newer, up and coming actors in Aaron Paul, Phoebe Fox and Barkhad Abdi along with grizzled veterans of character drama in Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman provides the film with a sense of calmness, which is unique in that this is essentially a war film at the end of the day and yet is still distinct. Mirren and Rickman exude this calm but controlling factor over the entire movie showing us the reason why their characters have the high ranks in the military. The characters understand that even though they may not be achieving their goal as soon as they would preferably like, they know that staying calm, using their experience and working the channels will grant them the end success they are looking for. With Paul and Fox, we get to see the younger, inexperienced portion of the military where initially both are very excited to be starting their day as the “eye in the sky” for the operation. However, as the day progresses and the likelihood of releasing a hellfire missile on a target in East Africa becomes more apparent, then the inexperience kicks in for the two pilots who more than likely don’t have the “on-the-ground” experience that Powell and Benson have accrued through their years of work with the military. It’s this mixture of casting the appropriately aged members for each of the roles that allows the film to establish its credibility and makes viewers either question or praise the decisions that are being made throughout the film.
Complementing the story and the characters is the very ambiguous soundtrack and score of the film. The tense moments of the film feel very tense with lots of ambient sound that make you focus on the pictures being delivered on screen and building your own feelings to what is being shown, rather than the score forcing you to feel one way or another. That’s not to say that there was a complete lack of music, but composers Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian absolutely nail the use of the music in this film to only those moments when they felt it necessary and knew that it would create a sense of grandeur to the film. However, during the moments of the drone strikes themselves, the film rids itself of all background music and relies on the characters to deliver the emotional feeling and heft through the use of facial expressions etc. which ultimately makes for a much more harrowing watch.
Personally, sharing a heritage with a country that has recently been ravaged by drone warfare can tend to lead a person to think about how the whole process works and the thinking behind it. Drone warfare has always been a very controversial issue with proponents and opponents of it, but what can be said about this film, is that it will definitely enhance your knowledge about the day-to-day issues that the personnel closest have to deal with just to get a single drone strike airborne. The side of the debate that you choose is a personal opinion but Eye in the Sky will try to, as objectively as possible, to show the military conduct and ramifications involved in drone warfare and will let you decide which side of the morality debate you belong.
Eye in the Sky gets very high praise and a high grade of A- (8.9/10).