Monday, May 09, 2016

Eye in the Sky (2015)

This spooky military paranoia thriller stitches together a lot of things we know with a lot of things we suspect for a reasonably gripping real-time ride. The "eye in the sky" is the satellite and other coverage that can see everything on the ground with spectacular clarity, interconnected with a communication system that can reach anywhere. In fact, Eye in the Sky felt like the first time I can recall getting such a strong sense for how much constant visual contact they can have, and what it looks like. "They"—the government, I mean, of course, the military, certain high-placed corporations, all the usual modern-day professional antiterrorist spooks. The setting of interest in this case is a building in Kenya where Islamic terrorist targets have gathered. The extraordinary spying technology includes flying mechanical birds and even insects, which can get inside buildings to transmit pictures. That's how we learn, along with the British military that is prosecuting this particular mission, that a suicide bombing is being prepared inside the building. With a genuinely imminent attack on their hands, they must change the mission from one of lawful capture to one of attack and contain. The two lower-level personnel in charge of actually firing the missile have never done so before. They are contract workers. Everyone involved—including very high-ranking British political figures—can see there is going to be lots of the famous collateral damage. The terms of this are debated in agonizing detail, notably all PR implications. If they stop the suicide bombers in the building, a little girl is almost certain to die. If they spare her and let the suicide bombers go, dozens of people likely would die in their attack. In many ways, this is what Eye in the Sky is best at, and it's very good—articulating the terms of our choices, setting the situation in motion, and following where it goes. It's a good story and script, with a lot to chew over. It's also got a stellar cast, with Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman in big roles (for Rickman, his last). Aaron Paul, late of Breaking Bad, distracted me a little playing so hard against Jesse Pinkman type. The Kenyan characters are well done too, notably Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) as a freelance spy-for-hire on the ground. In many ways the movie is at pains to refute every person's idea of how the mission should proceed. They all have opinions, and they are all wrong, because every way is wrong some way, from the bleeding-heart stand-in who gets a right telling off from the gruff realist, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Rickman), to the American monster in the form of a blonde woman who wants to know why the collateral damage reports are not on the news yet. There's altogether too much faith placed in militarized technology nowadays as an element of foreign policy, and I see that view affirmed here. It's possible, however, that someone with views opposed to mine could see their views affirmed here as well. I guess you'd have to call that a good thing? Gripping thriller, nicely done, at least.


  1. One of the more overlooked films of 2016 so far, I think.

    Great review.

    - Zach

  2. Yeah, thanks for the heads-up. Sound's intriguing, possibly annoying, but definitely curious.