It was only a matter of time before the hot topic of drone technology and how it’s being used by the government to spy on and even eliminate our enemies when necessary would be used as a plot device for a movie… or two.
Directed by Oscar winning filmmaker Gavin Hood, Eye in the Sky follows along similar themes as last year’s Good Kill, starring Ethan Hawke, though it’s a different movie for a number of reasons, which doesn’t necessarily make it a better one.
British Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has tracked a terrorist cell to Kenya using drone surveillance technology, but when she and her superior Lt. Gen. Frank Benson (played by the late Alan Rickman) realize they’re setting up a series of suicide bombings, their plan to capture the terrorists turns into a mission to kill. As Las Vegas-based drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) waits for the order to launch a missile on the location, a little girl shows up at the scene selling bread. She might get killed in the blowback, making the situation all the more complicated.
With a script by Guy Hibbert, it’s a fairly simple problem and conflict at the center of this drone thriller: is one innocent life worth potentially endangering the lives of hundreds of others? Even the two British military personnel analyzing the data they’re receiving from the drones aren’t able to make that call, so it involves a lot of them discussing their options while tracking down higher-ups to get the green light. Meanwhile, Paul and his fellow pilot stationed in the Nevada bunker with the controls to eliminate the target have to fight with their own consciences as the higher-ups debate whether they should pull that trigger or not.
Eye in the Sky ends up being another movie that mostly takes place in a couple of different rooms with people talking to one another, and that doesn’t always make for a very interesting movie. (Last year’s Steve Jobs was one of the rare examples of how a talkie movie can be done well and kept interesting.)
At least in this case, we get to see the people making the decisions and giving the orders rather than it just being a faceless voice on the phone. As one might expect, Mirren and Rickman are fantastically well cast in their roles, although their insistence on launching the missiles and possibly endangering innocents make them almost as bad as the terrorists they’re trying to stop. It’s certainly bittersweet watching the movie and realizing it may be one of the last times we see Rickman onscreen.
Despite his attempts at creating authenticity in terms of the military protocol, Gavin Hood’s latest film suffers from the same issues faced by his earlier post-9/11 film, Rendition, where interesting ideas are bogged down by a lot of talking, basically about the same thing. When it comes down to it, the movie becomes all about whether this little girl can sell her bread in time to not end up in the crossfire when they launch the missile into the complex. As you can imagine, that quickly gets tiring.
On the other hand, one of the better aspects of Eye in the Sky is that, unlike Good Kill, we spend more time on the ground in Kenya meeting some of the players, including Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) as an inside man who personally gets involved in trying to save the girl. Seeing these characters from this vantage point, rather than just from the so-called “eye in the sky,” makes a big difference at making the situation seem more personal.
Eye in the Sky sells itself as a race against time thriller, but any tension presented gets bogged down by so much talking that at a certain point, you no longer care if that little bread girl dies or not. Surely, that was not the intention the filmmakers were going for.
Eye in the Sky opens in select cities on Friday, March 11.