Monday, April 25, 2016

Film Reviews: 'Eye in the Sky'

Thriller ‘Eye in the Sky’ leaves no room for breathing

March 16, 2016

Alan Rickman in 'Eye in the Sky'
“Eye in the Sky” is both a white-knuckle suspense film and a freshman ethics seminar — and there will be a quiz. Actually, the movie itself is the quiz. Its strength and limitation is that it’s a gimmick that works.
The film’s also a drone-warfare drama, but not an agonized character piece, like 2014’s “Good Kill,” in which Ethan Hawke in Nevada pushed buttons that obliterated people in Afghanistan. Instead, director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi,” “Rendition”), working from a jigsaw-puzzle script by Guy Hibbert, puts the audience in a dramatic vise where everyone — including the characters and ourselves — has to decide whether saving theoretical lives justifies causing the death of an actual innocent.
Helen Mirren at her most enjoyably cold-blooded plays Colonel Katherine Powell, sitting in an underground bunker somewhere in England while leading an anti-terrorist team in Nairobi from her catbird seat. Two young jihadists, one a US citizen, have arrived to meet with a local al-Shabaab cell, and the sitdown may include a radicalized Englishwoman (Lex King) who has been Powell’s quarry for years.
On the ground in Nairobi is a team of Kenyan agents led by the resourceful Jama (Barkhad Abdi, the pirate leader of “Captain Phillips”), who has at his disposal a tiny, not-at-all-creepy beetle-shaped spycam that can fly into houses and that actually exists. Powell’s “eyes in the sky” above the terrorist’s house is a US drone piloted from Nevada by Lieutenants Watts (Aaron Paul, of “Breaking Bad”) and Gershon (Phoebe Fox), the latter a nervous newbie. A military specialist (Kim Engelbrecht) in Hawaii is on hand to ID the suspects through facial telemetry.
Oh, and there’s a London conference room full of high-ranking military personnel and government ministers who are supposedly overseeing the entire operation but who are soon dragged into a moral quagmire that renders them, more or less, six angry men and women. The problem is this: The beetle-cam reveals preparations for an imminent terrorist attack along the lines of the Nairobi shopping mall bombing in September 2013. And in the bustling street just outside the house’s walls a little girl (Aisha Takow) has set up a table to sell bread.
Would you push a button to send a Hellfire missile through the terrorists’ roof and kill the girl? What are the repercussions in terms of politics, international law, simple humanity? As Powell’s bunker crew frantically calculates Collateral Damage Estimates — a statistic that, like all statistics, can be bent to mean whatever you wish — the higher-ups in the conference room argue, stall, dither, and, in classic bureaucratic tradition, “refer up” the chain of command to cover their, uh, decisions.
“Eye in the Sky” cuts continually to the shifting situation in Nairobi, with Jama risking his life to get the girl to safety, and it flashes as well to the US drone team with Watts’s finger literally on the trigger of an untenable situation. Hood drops in on the British foreign minister (Iain Glen, of “Game of Thrones”), suffering from food poisoning in Hong Kong, as well as a few US political higher-ups who basically say, what’s the problem, drop the hammer. But the heart of the matter is in that conference room, where the leading military mind is played by Alan Rickman.
The movie is a final chance to remind ourselves how blessed we were to have had Rickman with us as long as we did; the late actor has one more voice role in the can (in Tim Burton’s upcoming “Alice Through the Looking Glass”), but his role as Lieutenant General Frank Benson was his last on-screen performance before his death in February. Rickman alone seems to understand that the movie’s war-room arguments are this close to “Dr. Strangelove”-level farce, except more bleakly, awfully comic because they’re potentially real. The general is a military man of the world, glaring balefully at the craven ministers played by Jeremy Northam, Richard McCabe, and Monica Dolan, not because they’re concerned about the young girl’s life but because they’re incapable of making a decision.
Well, could you? Hibbert’s screenplay threatens to talk every nuance to death, including the sensible fact that dropping bombs on innocent people tends to create more terrorists. But “Eye in the Sky” moves fast enough to keep us rapt and rattled, and it plays fair by most of its characters, including the girl’s parents (Faissa Hassan and Armaan Haggio), a baker and a bicycle repairman who see quietly to her education beneath the radar of the al-Shabaab militiamen. The girl, Aila, is a girl, which is to say the script humanizes her enough so that we care very much about what happens to her.
It’s clockwork entertainment, in the end — a precisely calibrated schematic in which every aspect of the ethical quandary balances every other aspect, and the only variable is your own moral compass. “Eye in the Sky” resolves itself logically and, I think, honorably, but it’s so invested in its own interlocking cogs that the larger picture — of our brave new world of surveillance, drone strikes, and decentralized warfare — seems almost taken for granted. As suspense, it’s excellent. The audience doesn’t breathe for nearly two hours. But neither does the movie.

Directed by Gavin Hood. Written by Guy Hibbert. Starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aisha Takow, Barkhad Abdi, Aaron Paul, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen. At Kendall Square, Coolidge Corner, Boston Common; West Newton on March 25. 102 minutes. R (violent images and language).
Ty Burr can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.


By Peter Hitchens for The Mail on Sunday

Best film of the year so far is Eye In The Sky in which Helen Mirren, in beautifully tailored camouflage, plays a British Army colonel trying to decide whether to launch a deadly drone strike on a terrorist safe house in Africa.

The late and much lamented Alan Rickman, in his last on-screen role, plays a red-tabbed general who has to deal with the politicians and their dithering.

The target house is crammed with front-rank terrorist commanders. But just outside it sits an innocent little girl, selling loaves of bread.

What do you do?

I won’t tell you what they do, but I am surprised we’re not much more worried about this form of warfare. Victims of ordinary bombing from the air are famously angered and frustrated by being subjected to an attack to which there is no defence. But this is much more alarming.

A woman at a desk in Nevada, by squeezing a trigger, can (without any risk to herself) obliterate or dismember another human being thousands of miles away, tearing them to shreds or dissolving them in a lake of fire.

An older generation than mine would have mumbled in mild tones ‘That’s not cricket!’ But today’s ruthless anti-terror macho man will reply: ‘We’re dealing with terrorists. The rules have changed. You can’t use chivalry when fighting with such people.’

Bystanders will see these attacks for themselves, or may be scorched or wounded by them. 
It is more than possible, for it happened to a wedding party in Yemen in December 2013, that entirely innocent people will be vaporised by mistake. 

Will their relatives be more or less likely to turn against us, once they have witnessed such events?

Precisely because it is so risk-free to us, it is outrageous and infuriating to those who see it on their own streets, who will feel as if we are treating them as insects to be casually swatted.

No doubt it will allow us to kill, by remote control, all kinds of people we don’t like. But is this moral? Would we send someone to walk up to them in the street and shoot them without warning or any kind of judicial process?

And would we accept it if a foreign power launched such attacks on our soil? I find it especially interesting that governments (such as ours) which sniffily refuse to execute convicted murderers, and so defend us from armed violence, are content to support this form of warfare.

How can arbitrary killing from the sky be right, and execution after a fair trial be wrong?

Read more:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

'Eye in the Sky' is a 'Fail Safe' for the Drone Generation


Helen Mirren brings gimlet-eyed, tungsten-spined intensity to her role as a ruthlessly calculating British army colonel in “Eye in the Sky,” Gavin Hood’s taut, ­well-constructed thriller.
Unfolding almost in real time, this soberingly effective ­nail-biter follows the tactical, legal and ethical implications of a drone operation in East Africa that unexpectedly escalates from a surveillance job to a missile strike. And in Hood’s capable hands, what could easily be a talky, theatrical chamber piece turns into a dynamic work of cinema. The characters and the tense, increasingly dire dialogue drive the action of “Eye in the Sky,” with Mirren’s Col. Powell overseeing operations from a base in Surrey while she communicates with Kenyan ground forces in Nairobi, U.S. drone pilots in Nevada, a facial-recognition specialist in Hawaii, and a chain of military and political higher-ups in a paneled London situation room.
On the heels of last year’s similarly themed drama “Good Kill,” starring Ethan Hawke, “Eye in the Sky” exemplifies a new kind of war picture, defined by the remote targeting by unmanned drones and the eerily silent images of people in faraway lands being obliterated at the push of a button. The gamelike framing and composition lend themselves strangely well to the cinematic form. Rarely has the technology of war been so suited to a visual medium.
To his credit, Hood — who directed the Oscar-winning “Tsotsi” (2005) and the political drama “Rendition” (2007) — keeps a restrained hand when it comes to the optics, which here are used less for whiz-bang effect than to keep the audience firmly grounded in the movie’s myriad locations. He and first-time screenwriter Guy Hibbert are far more interested in the human elements in what becomes an emotionally gripping — if manipulative and schematic — life-and-death drama. (Viewers old enough to remember the Cold War tick-tock “Fail Safe” will sense a temperamental resemblance.)
While Powell pushes for a timely attack, a group of British cabinet secretaries and politicians second-guess her, worrying that any civilian casualties incurred would prove a political and publicity nightmare. Her intermediary in the argument is a quiet, subtly contemptuous general played by the late Alan Rickman, in a performance that proves how utterly singular he was. Whether he’s buying a toy doll, presumably for the birthday of a granddaughter, or making mordant observations about what he sees as pointless, bureaucratic dithering, his pitch is never less than perfect and sneakily on point.
“Eye in the Sky” is worth seeing if only to behold the actor in his glory one more time. (Rickman will reprise his role voicing the Blue Caterpillar later this year in “Alice Through the Looking Glass.”) But Hood has been just as judicious in casting the rest of the roles: Mirren combines both wile and steel in a masterful portrayal of Ahab-like obsession, while Barkhad Abdi — the Somali actor who played a marauding pirate in “Captain Phillips” — delivers a watchful performance as a surveillance expert in Kenya who expertly deploys a cleverly disguised menagerie of tiny, remote-control cameras.
There’s no question that Hood stacks the deck in “Eye in the Sky,” an anguishing piece of audience pandering that Rickman’s character acknowledges in one of his flawlessly timed asides. But even with that license, the filmmaker engages the audience in a worthy debate, in which the U.S. drone pilot — played by “Breaking Bad” alum Aaron Paul in an impressively reflective turn — serves as the most plaintive moral voice. In its own unsubtle way, “Eye in the Sky” makes a propagandistic case for drone warfare, if only in depicting the decision-making process as so thoughtful, agonizing and comprehensive.
Notwithstanding that inherent bias — and a tendency to caricature U.S. administration officials as far less thoughtful and painstaking — “Eye in the Sky” provides a valuable dramatization of what we’re asking of the public servants who carry out the missions we passively or actively endorse. This is the rare military drama that conveys both the graphic physical effects of war and its lingering psychic cost.
R. At area theaters. Contains some violent images and obscenity. 102 minutes.

No comments: