THE FILM 4.5/5
“That was a disgraceful thing I just witnessed…
and all done from the safety of your chair.”
Directed by Academy Award® Winner Gavin Hood and written by Guy Hibbert, Eye in the Sky follows Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), a UK-based military officer in command of a top secret drone operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. Using remote surveillance and on-the-ground intelligence, Powell discovers the targets are planning a suicide bombing and the mission escalates from “capture” to “kill.” But as American pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is about to engage, a nine-year-old girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute, reaching the highest levels of American and British government, over the moral, political and personal implications of modern military operations.
Every so often, Hollywood will find itself generating dueling projects with very similar subject matter. In 1998, it was Armageddon vs. Deep Impact. In 2005, it was Capote vs. Infamous. And, hilariously, in 2013, it was the ridiculously plotted Olympus Has Fallen vs. White House Down. As for the present: Andrew Niccols’ Good Kill and Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky. Comparisons are generally expected when one film explores the same subject matter as a previous, but when those films are released in the same calendar year, these comparisons are inevitable. However, unlike, say, asteroids destroying earth, or terrorists invading the White House while ripping off Die Hard, drone warfare is something more people need to be educated on, as it’s easy to wonder how many actually know what this program is, what it entails, and, finally, what it risks.
While Niccols’ drone film, starring Ethan Hawke as our on-screen soldier engaged in this battle from afar, included a bird’s-eye view of the drone process, it was more interested in looking at the psychological wear and tear this new form of warfare can take on those involved. While a fine film in its own right, and commendable for its realistic look at drone warfare, it ultimately ended up treading familiar ground, as we’ve already seen countless films–made for every generation–about the effects of war, and why soldiers can’t shake it off even after leaving the battlefield.
What Eye in the Sky chooses to do, instead, is make the audience a participant, giving them an intimate glance into the inner-workings of the drone process–what’s entailed, who’s involved, and the extremely difficult choices that have to be made in respect to what we call “the greater good.” Paul Greengrass proved, with his Bourne sequels but especially with United 93, that you can still craft a highly suspenseful and thrilling film simply with people surrounded by computer monitors barking into headsets. Director Gavin Hood takes the same approach, joining together (remotely) five different settings all over the globe, each a vital part in a high-risk/high-reward droning. The many different facets communicate via cell phone, text messaging, military radio, and video conferencing, while all of them are joined together by the surveillance video being taken by their agent on the ground in the middle of the conflict.
But Eye in the Sky isn’t only interested in giving the audience an intimate role in the droning process, but wants them to see the intensely complicated procedure involved in making it happen. Helen Mirren’s Colonel Powell is adamant her long-hunted target be neutralized, a little too easily dismissing the collateral damage that is sure to occur. Aaron Paul’s pilot, Steve Watts, with tears slowly brimming in his eyes as he sees the very landscape on which this drone will land, tries every stall tactic in an effort to avoid pulling the trigger. The late Alan Rickman’s Lieutenant Benson, meanwhile, is caught between legal, political, and moral bureaucracy when he finds himself surrounded by a circle of decision-makers too terrified to make a decision. Tying them all together is young Alia (Aisha Takow), civilian and native of Nairobi trying to sell loaves of bread in a market place in very close proximity to the intended drone’s target. Pull the trigger and the target is neutralized, saving a potential eighty lives by foiling the terrorist plot unfolding within the unassuming tin-roofed house. Don’t pull the trigger, save Alia, but risk those same eighty lives by having had the chance to stop the terrorists, but doing nothing.
Eye in the Sky is nearly two hours of people asking for permission to fire a missile. And while that sounds dull and inactive, Eye in the Sky is anything but. It’s intensely suspenseful, and thrilling in ways you never knew a film could be. We jump from room to room to all involved, receiving just a glimpse of their current state of mind before we’re off to the next room, as someone waits for an order. All of them have a single question on their mind, and each has a different answer: is one real life worth eighty potential ones?
That’s the question Eye in the Sky wants to ask, but through no fault of its own does it avoid answering, because that’s why the audience has been given such an intimate seat in the Situation Room. It’s up to us all to answer that burning question left lingering at film’s end: What is the right choice?
What, ultimately, is the greater good?
THE PICTURE 4.5/5
Eye in the Sky boasts an incredibly detailed high-definition visual presentation. One of the very first scenes sees Mirren’s Colonel Powell waking up in the middle of the night, and even in the dim darkness of her room, the texture of her face is remarkable defined, with no loss of definition in the gloom. Flesh tones are realistic and natural, and textures continue to be impressive and detailed. The environments of the film are varied, ranging from a high-tech command center with background gadgetry and bright lights, to the sandy and light-strewn landscapes of Nairobi, and all are effectively rendered in this image.
THE SOUND 4.5/5
The audio presentation on hand is limited to a 5.1 DTS track, but makes full use of it. Keep in mind that Eye in the Sky is not your typical war film, in that there is only one scene of the enemy being engaged. What drives the film is the constant communication between the various participants of this mission, spread between England, the United States, and Nairobi. Thankfully, dialogue is constantly clear, clean, and well represented. The musical score mounts effectively only at key moments, doing a fine job of keeping the suspense going. During surveillance sequences in which a ground agent utilizes an array of covert gadgets to spy on the terrorists in question (in the form of artificial and radio controlled hummingbirds and beetles–these can’t be real, can they?), the quiet whisper that emits from each of them is the most subtle but also the best use of sound in a film released this year so far.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 1/5
Supplements for Eye in the Sky are very light, which include only two “featurettes,” whose combined total running time is less than three minutes. Each is basically the film’s theatrical trailer with interview snippets from the cast and crew cut into each.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
STUDIO: Universal Studios / Bleecker Street Films
DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Home Entertainment
THEATRICAL DATE: April 1, 2016
VIDEO STREET DATE: June 28, 2016
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC; 1080p; 2.40:1
AUDIO: English 5.1 DTS-HD
SUBTITLES: English SDH; Spanish
RUN TIME: 102 mins
DVD COPY: Yes
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: Ultraviolet/iTunes
Eye in the Sky is a film that every American really needs to see. We hear about drones–we’ve seen the amateur videos of them flying over the ocean or hovering outside the Seattle Space Needle, or laughed at the idea of Amazon using them to deliver packages–but we don’t know everything about them that we should. More importantly, we don’t know enough about the calls that have to be made in the heat of the moment. Drones may be warfare that’s committed from an armchair and from behind screens, but it’s still war all the same. And it has the same effects, while we, the civilians, lump it in with traditional warfare as a necessary evil. But we can, again, at least ask ourselves the question after every drone strike we hear about. A high-value asset may have been neutralized, but who else won’t be coming home that night? Will the girl with the chubby, adorable cheeks and shy disposition selling bread on the side of the road be so lucky as to survive? Very light supplemental package aside, Eye in the Sky presents stellar video and audio in this essential and eye-opening blu-ray release.
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