20 April 2016 | bob-the-movie-man
Political dithering and droning
In "Air Force One" (1997) Gary Oldman's hijacking terrorist rebuffs the President's daughter's claim that the two are unalike – "Why? Because he does it in a tuxedo with a telephone call and a smart bomb?". Warfare has changed immeasurably in the last twenty years with the introduction of ever-more ingenious drone technology, allowing armchair generals to be just that
cosily dispatching bad guys from the comfort of their own fireside with a cigar and a brandy in hand. "Eye in the Sky" addresses the issues associated with this capability, showcasing some of the technology used, the truly global distribution of operations, the stresses placed on drone operators and the political ramifications of being able to SEE everything happening in real-time and in great detail.
The film focuses on an operation to capture a cell of the Al Shabaab terrorist group in Kenya, holed up in a highly defended suburb of Nairobi. Political ramifications result from the fact that two of the terrorists are British nationals and one is American born. Helen Mirren ("The Queen") plays Colonel Katherine Powell (as a strong female role model that is to be commended) heading up the military operations. Alan Rickman is her boss, Lieutenant General Frank Benson, handling the politics within the "Cobra" meeting in Whitehall. Flying the key drone itself, and being put under great stress, are pilots Steve Watts (Aaron Paul, "Breaking Bad") and rookie Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox, "The Woman in Black 2").
While much of the action is 'remote', we also have feet on the street in the form of Somali-born Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), swapping sides from his terrorist role in "Captain Phillips" to support the good guys. And finally adding a strong human angle is young Kenyan girl Alia (Aisha Takow) trying to enjoy her childhood amid the repressive Islamic regime.
This subject has been handled before: Ethan Hawke's "Good Kill" from 2014 and the dreadful looking 'B-movie' called "Drones" all focused on the mental state of drone pilots inflicting their video-games style justice from the safety of their US bases. Where "Eye in the Sky" goes one better is in focusing on the tense triangle of decision-making between military, legal and political factors at play.
"Eye in the Sky" is an odd curate's egg of a film – really good in places. The action scenes are well handled with nail-biting tension built up at times: never has the sale of bread been more gripping! Particularly tense are the scenes involving Barkhad Abdi who is (once again) excellent in his role as Hollywood's "go to Somali"! On home ground the film is less sure-footed. While Guy Hibbert's story rightly balances the action with the dramatic tensions of the decision-making process, the dithering that ensues reaches almost comical proportions at one point, painting British government in a very poor and (I hope to God) unrealistic light. I can only dread to think what American audiences think when they watch this film! In comparison, the US politicians are portrayed as much more analytical and matter of fact. Probably frustrating the hell out of American audiences though will be the portrayal of their military pilots who – I would presume – are diligently selected and trained in real-life to 'disengage brain and follow orders' without question in a combat situation: not as featured in the film.
A film like this lives and dies by the quality of its special effects, and these (by Mickey Kirsten and Vasili Rinquest) are up to snuff, with excellent highlighting of the ingenious drone gadgets in the military's arsenal. Another shout-out should go to Megan Hill for some very tight and effective film editing in the action scenes.
The director is Gavin Hood ("Ender's Game") who also appears as the US Lt Colonel in the film.
Helen Mirren – not everyone's cup of tea as an actress – is splendid here as the frustrated Colonel and many of the supporting cast also excel: Monica Dolan (so brilliant in the BBC's "W1A") is brilliantly irritating as the Cobra voice of conscience! But this will be a film that will be remembered as the last for the late and great Alan Rickman who died suddenly of pancreatic cancer in January. Surely no actor was better at delivering such deliberate and clipped lines as Rickman, and he will be sorely missed. It is almost physically painful to watch his final scenes in the film, and he (nearly) exits with a fine and memorable last line of dialogue. R.I.P. Mr Rickman.
In summary, this is a highly watchable and gripping film, regrettably diluted by an over-egged and unrealistic dose of political dithering in the storyline.
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