Films that challenge the viewers to think and really ponder about the ramifications of various aspects of the film long after they are done should be given special mention because that is a very difficult thing to accomplish. This film stayed with me for several hours because it is not your typical run-of-the-mill political thriller. This is a film that questions your morals and makes you think about what you would do in a similar situation.
The film centers around a possible air strike to take place in a building in the heart of Kenya containing three of East Africa’s most wanted criminals. Everything is lined up and they have a view of the interior of the building… but the only problem is this: there is a young girl close to the area. If they strike, there is a strong chance that she could end up as a casualty. Because of this, we get debates about the implications of modern warfare between all of the various organizers of this operation. We get the colonel (Mirren), the two drone operators (Paul & Fox) and the political side of things including Rickman as a lieutenant-general which gives the whole thing a multi-faceted approach.
We don’t often see films with so many different view points like this, especially in a war-themed one. One thing that you get to see is so many characters struggle with their decisions based on their own moral compass. Helen Mirren takes the lead in a hard-nosed performance as a woman who is rather steadfast in her beliefs. It will be up to the viewers if the decisions she makes are the right ones but SHE believes that they are which makes her a character that you can respect because she stays true to her convictions. Alan Rickman’s last performance was in this film and it’s unfortunate but it’s also a great way for him to exit stage left as he brings a lot to the table. What I liked most about Rickman’s character are the details. Immediately, you see Rickman doing a very typical father thing which is his confusion over which doll his daughter wants at the store. This makes his perspective on the whole situation infinitely more interesting and you can see his struggle with that combined with his realization that they must act quickly. Finally, we have Aaron Paul who, quite frankly, hasn’t impressed yet with any of his film roles. However, this is definitely the best thing he’s done since Breaking Bad. As one of the drone operators, Aaron is a very conflicted character as well but his story feels more personal because it is literally one button click away from happening.
This is easily director Gavin Hood’s best work. This is the same guy who directed the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the OK Ender’s Game. Here he takes over both the directing and the screenplay and has truly crafted something special. As it pertains to the directing, this is never a film that chooses flashiness or style over substance (cough, Zack Snyder, cough) and it is a very easy film to follow because it focuses on character development rather than things that need to happen for the sake of the plot alone. The writing is strong due to the aforementioned character development and there are also very nice small moments that attribute to the movie as well. In fact I would almost describe the style of the film as being somewhat inspired by 12 Angry Men. The film takes place in some limited locations but the intensity of the film never lets up and there is constant agreement and disagreement between the various parties. Hood utilizes political themes very well and the parts of the film that really exemplify that are all the channels they constantly go through to get an answer regarding the possible air strike. No one wants to take responsibility for their decision and thus it gets passed around to higher authorities ad nauseum.
I wanted to devote an entire aside to Barkhad Abdi. After the success of Captain Phillips, I was afraid that Abdi would be relegated to roles like this for the majority of his career. I loved him in CP but I knew that subsequent roles would get worse and worse until he just about gave up and quit. However, I am glad to say that he rocks the house in this film and he gets to play a good guy, which is something I thought would be hard for him to do mostly because he had that iconic villain look in the previously mentioned film. Abdi is a great sympathetic character and is a wonderful addition to the film. I hope to see him in more roles like this in the future.
Overall, Eye in the Sky is an excellent film with a perfect screenplay, wonderful direction and strong performances from its cast. This one will probably top my year-end list by the time we’re out of 2016.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)