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Eye in the Sky - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Eye in the Sky
Directing: A-
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

Would you kill one innocent child to prevent the potential murder of many? This is the greatest moral question, among many, posed in Eye in the Sky, a film far more provocative and suspenseful than it might appear at first glance. It's the kind of ethical question that many a Hollywood production would approach in a highly contrived way. And with deceptive simplicity, this movie presents the complexities of modern warfare in a way you won't see in other films.

There's very little in the way of "action movie" sequences, actually. There are all of two explosions, and they are very calculated, targeted, and in the context of this movie, pointedly orchestrated from the seeming comfort of chairs and rooms literally all over the planet. The target is in Nairobi, where known terrorist targets are meeting in a house. A joint operation capture is being mounted, spearheaded by a colonel (Helen Mirren) in an underground bunker in England, in coordination with a Lieutenant (Alan Rickman, in a more than respectable final film role) and several high-ranking British government officials in another office. A drone is being piloted by American air force officers in Las Vegas (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox). Kenyan military is standing by, with an undercover agent (Captan Phillips's Barkhad Abdi) getting close to the aforementioned house.

In fact, that agent is the one example of a character who gets oddly close to James Bond, with the gadgets he uses. A mechanical bird that can be flown by remote control, used to attempt to peek through windows with its camera. Ditto the beetle, an even tinier gadget, that is used to get inside the house and confirm that the people there are suiting up with explosive-strapped suicide vests. Do these things actually exist? If they do, surely they don't work so reliably.

But that's beside the point. What Eye in the Sky is about is not just the way war can now be waged with thousands of miles of removal between combatants, but the way intelligence information is used to calculate potential collateral damage. This house becomes of extremely high interest, when a woman who has been tracked for six years meets there with multiple other highly valued targets. We see photos of this house, taken with the drone, superimposed with concentric circles of estimated damage and civilian fatalities. When the suicide vests are seen, the mission changes from capture to assassination -- to prevent a suicide bombing with a likely far higher death count -- and the front pilots are given the go-ahead to shoot a missile at the house.

But then a little girl goes to a table right next to that house, where she sells bread. We are given small peeks into this girl's home life -- a father who educates her in secret, amongst Muslim extremists. We see the potential to be lost here, if even this one little girl dies in the bombing.

It's worth noting that U.S. drone strikes with far more collateral damage than this are not just common, but common knowledge. And that when the British government officials in this movie are contacted by a representative of the White House, the U.S. is emphatic in their encouragement of launching the strike, in spite of one of the targets being a U.S. citizen. A whole lot of Eye in the Sky is dialogue -- this would work as a perfectly engaging stage play -- with the Brits being the ones engaged in protracted debate about legality and political fallout. People who should be making decisions in the heat of the moment keep deferring up the chain of command.

But this is all engaging and worthy debate, stuff we should all be thinking about. Eye in the Sky is impressively concise in its presentation of a scenario that is messy by definition. There are no clear ethical choices. That the movie moves at a nice pace and keeps you on the edge of your seat is merely an added bonus.

Helen Mirren's character is the one with the least struggle of morality. She takes a mathematically pragmatic approach: engage now, regardless of collateral damage, before these people get out to a highly populated area and kill scores more. That's not to say she doesn't care. All of these characters care. But where is that emotion most effectively channeled in a no-win scenario? There are only probabilities, and which action will lead to the least shitty outcome.

This movie perhaps could have used a better marketing campaign, it's so much better than is easy to assume of it based on the trailers. The downside is that it doesn't get seen by nearly as many people as it should. The upside is that, for those of us who go to see it thanks to a lack of better options in cineplexes at the moment, it exceeds expectations by a wide margin.

Helen Mirren is one point of pressure on EYE IN THE SKY.

Overall: A-
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