Magic Mirren takes the lead
The war on terror gets a fresh, more personal twist in director Gavin Hood’s emotionally charged thriller.
Heading up the cast is Dame Helen Mirren as British Colonel Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya.
What initially appears a straightforward tactical mission for the determined Powell quickly escalates into a tense game of cat and mouse when a nine-year-old girl wanders into the kill zone.
Eye in the Sky moves away from the bombastic, Stars and Stripes-waving bravado of certain other modern war movies to focus on the implications of such actions.
It’s no real surprise given Hood’s track record – powerful Oscar winner Tsotsi and CIA interrogation powder keg Rendition – but marks a welcome return to earlier career form for the South African after big budget missteps Ender’s Game and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
The screenplay by Oxford-born Guy Hibbert doesn’t sugarcoat anything; there are no clear heroes and villains or right and wrong answers.
Morals are tested as the film delivers a series of “what would you do?” questions with potentially catastrophic global implications.
It doesn’t hurt either when you’ve got acting royalty hovering over the trigger button and Mirren gives her finest turn since 2012’s Hitchcock as a convincing, battle-hardened soldier with an unyielding commitment to her country in a role originally written for a man.
There’s a tinge of sadness too as Eye in the Sky marks the final big screen appearance of the late Alan Rickman (Lieutenant General Frank Benson) and it’s a fittingly fine farewell for the beloved Londoner.
Aaron Paul (Steve Watts) deserves credit for keeping up with his more experienced co-stars. His emotional, reluctant to put an innocent to death, American drone pilot is his best postBreaking Bad effort by a country mile.
At times the bunker banter and talky stylings evoke memories of Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove but don’t go in expecting smirks and satire – this is serious business.
A movie featuring people sitting around and arguing while watching video screens might not sound like the most exciting way to spend an hour and 40 minutes, so it’s a testament to Hibbert’s story and the well-rounded characters that your attention is never diverted away from what’s happening on screen.
Hood keeps his filming style vibrant too, shooting his tight locations from just about every angle and utilising all the tools of modern warfare, including satellite and drone cameras and facial-recognition software.
Only the odd dip into audience manipulation territory and the implausibly frequent dangerous scenarios the young girl finds herself in fail to hit the target.
A white-knuckle ride with powerful performances, Eye in the Sky is a thought-provoking look behind the curtain of modern warfare.
Heading for war Helen Mirren’s Colonel Powell