“Never tell a soldier he doesn’t know the cost of war.”
Sometimes a film comes out of absolutely nowhere and blows you away. Sometimes you go see a film based on, I don’t know, the awesome looking cast or because the synopsis makes it sound interesting or, like this for instance, timing just happened to mean you were seeing Eye in the Sky because there wasn’t a convenient showing of The Jungle Book when you got to your local flicks.
I plonked my arse in the chair having not seen a trailer (amazingly!) or really heard anything about what I was about to watch. Sometimes that’s my favourite way to go into a movie.
Gavin Hood – director of the okay Rendition and the pretty crap X-Men Origins: Wolverine – has put together an awesome cast for what may be the most tense drama I’ve seen in quite some time. British army Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has led a years long charge after a couple of violent extremists in Kenya, the sum of all her work culminating in a multi-national operation to apprehend and interrogate them. She soon comes to blows with her commanding officer, Lieutenant General Benson (Alan Rickman) and the politicians he answers to when her mission goes sideways and it quickly goes from being a target capture to an execution from afar.
Things are complicated further when the pilot of the drone that’s watching Powell’s targets (Aaron Paul), who has suddenly become the man with his finger on the trigger, refuses to pull it when the question of collateral damage isn’t one that is answered in a way that satisfies him. Demanding the Colonel and the General rethink their strategies and come back with a safer alternative, they all find themselves in a race against time trying to get a safe solution before their very high value targets, and the men they are grooming to be suicide bombers leave the building they are holed up in making them impossible to track.
I don’t know where to begin with this film. Almost everything about it is outstanding and I’m genuinely confused about where to start. Let’s talk for a second about the pedigree of two of the three main characters. We have the outstanding Helen Mirren, a woman who won an Oscar playing the Queen for Christ’s sake, sinking her teeth into a part that was clearly written for a man. Nevertheless, she grabs that ball and runs hard with it as the colonel at the end of her rope. We get to see this stoic military woman try desperately to hold it together as the last few years of work starts to slip away and she has to wonder where she can draw her line. On the other side of her monitor is the truly amazing Alan Rickman. A man who has dedicated his life to the military and, like it or not, he has to convince politicians on both sides of the Atlantic of the right thing to do. He has to fight with these men and women who’s priorities are skewed around protecting themselves first and everyone else second.
Bringing up the rear, in a way, is Aaron Paul. A man I was never really a fan of (yeah, I know he was great in Breaking Bad, but what else?) but is definitely on the road to converting me after this role. As the man with his finger on the trigger, his reaction to the situation on the ground is what makes this such an important film. He’s us. He’s the guy asking if he’s doing the right thing and making sure those giving the orders are doing the right thing too. It’s not a question of legality, it’s a question of morality; we know it, he knows it, and damn he’ll make sure his superiors know it. Ok, so maybe I am bigging him up a bit. Mainly he does that silly crying thing he always does and looks very sad, but I’m pretty riveted with every line he utters.
Hood’s direction, which in the past has left a shit load to be desired, is near perfect here. With the perfect pace the ramps up the tension to nail-biting levels and a beautiful editing job that never lets you forget all the players in this game, there’s no way you get to the end of this surprising little flick without gripping the arm of the chair. Not one minute of screen time, not one frame of film is wasted in the telling of this story. It’s a story of men and women that have to decide to kill people, or not. It’s a story of the decisions that are made probably more often than any of us want or care to realise and it’s the story of people that have to go through this hell, and come back the next day and do it all over again.
It’s the story of decisions that none of us would ever want to make.
In an impressive feat, Mr. Hood has taken a film with almost no explosions, fewer guns, and gone and made one of the greatest, most compelling war films of the last few years as the question of the morality of not just the war on terror but that of long-range drone warfare are brought to the forefront and a spotlight put on them like never before. Each person involved brings everything they have to convincing us of the turmoil they are going through. It would be awful of me not to mention the late, great, Alan Rickman in what is his last role on screen. There’s a certain melancholy to his part and a real sad feeling to watch him bring his driest of dry humour up there for the last time, but it’s one of his most memorable parts and as shit as it is that he’s not with us anymore, this is a great send off.
Eye in the Sky is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. It’s an almost perfectly formed drama that leaves a knot in your stomach long after the credits have rolled. It’s pulled-from-the-headlines subject matter puts questions none of us want to answer up there in bright lights for us all to discuss and isn’t afraid to make you wonder which side is right. It’s a serious, grim story to tell; but it’s an affecting one. I can’t remember ever seeing such a quiet, somber audience as a cinema empties.