Eye in the Sky

 

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An imminent drone strike on a terrorist cell in Nairobi is stalled by the appearance of a 

young girl in the firing line.

 

Eye in the Sky

I spy: Helen Mirren attempts to save lives - but at a cost

 

It’s only one eye but there are a lot of people watching. In Gavin Hood’s detailed, breath-stopping thriller, the viewer is whipped around the world from Nairobi to two locations in London to Las Vegas and Hawaii via additional pit stops in Singapore and Beijing. Whitehall staff, US military brass, a couple of drone pilots and other personnel all have their eye on Alia, a little Kenyan girl selling bread. As Alia’s panary wares are gradually picked up by passing customers, it’s safe to say that there has never been a more suspenseful scene of bread-selling in cinema history.

 

The eye is a Reaper drone and the quarry is three of the most wanted terrorists on the Horn of Africa. Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) has dedicated six years to tracking down a top Al-Shabaab jihadist and, at last, has located him in a house on the outskirts of Nairobi. But there are complications. Two of the targets are British nationals and one an American and just as a surveillance ‘beetle’ reveals two suicide bombers being kitted out for their deadly charge, this little girl has set up a bread stall immediately outside. Inevitably, if the drone strike is sanctioned by the British and American military, the girl will become a victim. Or, in the words of an American official (Laila Robins), she will become “one collateral damage item.” The question is whether or not the mission should be aborted to save the girl, albeit risking the lives of countless others in the process. It’s a thorny predicament, both politically and ethically.

 

The beauty of Guy Hibbert’s screenplay is that it ploughs every angle, leaving the viewer in as much of a quandary as the raft of opposing voices featured in the film. Some of the facts may be stacked in favour of annihilating the terrorists, but Al-Shabaab have barely presented a favourable profile to the outside world. And Colonel Powell’s mission is hardly a cowardly one. There are back-up agents on the ground as well as legal, political and military advisors on-hand to weigh up the various strategic, moral and long-term propagandist ramifications. For Powell, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare. She has the enemy in her sights – at long last – but is prevented from “prosecuting the target” due to red tape.

 

Gavin Hood, who explored comparable moral permutations in his equally complex and sorely undervalued Rendition (2007), is a dab hand as cultural context and irony. As Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman, in his last on-screen appearance) grapples with his wife’s demands to purchase the right doll for a child’s upcoming birthday (he is befuddled by the choice), we see the delight on Alia’s face as she is given a simple hoop to play with.

Unlike the similarly-themed Good Kill of last year, in which Ethan Hawke’s co-pilot could have passed for a supermodel, the characters in Eye in the Sky are lived-in bureaucrats and soldiers battling with everyday mundanity. Indeed, the UK Foreign Secretary (Iain Glen) is suffering from an outburst of food poisoning when asked (in the loo) for his approval of the strike.

 

A lesser director may have played this all for laughs, but Hood never wavers from the claustrophobic suspense of his unfolding narrative in which Helen Mirren, the audience, et al, are put through an emotional, intellectual and moral workout.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox, Aisha Takow, Richard McCabe, Monica Dolan, Michael O'Keefe, Laila Robins, Armaan Haggio, John Heffernan.

 

Dir Gavin Hood, Pro Ged Doherty, Colin Firth and David Lancaster, Screenplay Guy Hibbert, Ph Haris Zambarloukos, Pro Des Johnny Breedt, Ed Megan Gill, Music Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian, Costumes Ruy Filipe.

 

Entertainment One/Raindog Films-Entertainment One.

102 mins. UK. 2015. Rel: 15 April 2016. Cert. 15.