Eye in the Sky Movie Review

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Eye in the Sky (2015)

Eye in the Sky Movie Review

This is a white-knuckled heart-parked-in-your-mouth "tick tock" suspense thriller. Hardly an ounce of fats lined a lean and mean explosive storyline, and this one is going to hit the "career reset" button for Gavin Hood (even though his last effort Ender's Game is quite decent). 

Eye in the Sky towers above Good Kill (2015) on so many levels. They have the same story premise and both are spins on drone warfare, but their similarities end there. I really thought GK was a decent film albeit a tad too heavy on melodrama histrionics and it ultimately became top down heavy in its underlying message of modern warfare. EitS on the other hand is a complete marvel. It is exactly what GK isn't. It dares to ask probing ethical and moral questions but never cheapens the narrative by giving you broad-stroked answers; it will involve you totally and absolutely. We go through a minefield of moral conundrums and nobody will come out unscathed. The script is exceptionally probing and showcases all the legalistic, moralistic, ethical and political red-tape as parties, seated in situation rooms in different parts of the world (including a toilet), convened to decide whether a Hellfire missile should be launched. We see, almost in real time, the ramifications at every angle, from the innocent bystander, to the terrorists, to the people in suits and to the dude seated in a tiny room, his hands on the red trigger of a joystick. Innocence is indeed the first casualty of war. 

Another reason this film shines is its refusal to go down certain genre tropes. You won't see the guy, who had squeezed the trigger to rain down destruction on collateral innocents, drown in alcohol and sucking in a line of coke. You won't see a woman going home to hug her toddler to reassure herself that she did the right thing. You won't see commanders giving you three-point sermons of "it is a dirty job but somebody has to do it so that the world will be a better place". There is such a raw and unsettling freshness to it. It may be a full-on talkie but I was gripping my arm-rests tightly and my wifey had her palms parked at her mouth, almost literally from the get-go.

The acting is all round immaculate. Helen Mirren shines as a hard-nosed military officer with a tiny soft spot for her underlings. Few actresses can elevate a film just with their presence; Mirren is one for the ages. This must be the best role I have seen Aaron Paul in since Breaking Bad. His role isn't easy, especially when he is stuck in a gamer's chair almost throughout the film. His face displays so much range that you would feel his internal turmoil as his omniscient eye calculates whether it will be a good kill. Barkhad Abdi, last seen as the baddie in Captain Phillips, has a superb turn as an operative on the ground, proving he is not a fluke. This is also Alan Rickman's final acting role and I literally count down the minutes that he will disappear from the big screen. The utterly memorable line he delivers with that quietly supercilious voice of his send chills down my spine. I am going to miss this fine actor. 

Eye in the Sky is superbly cerebral and morally thought-provoking; a suspense thriller for intelligent people. It is impossible to come out of this 102-minute film and not have your soul shattered in some way. This is one of those films you shouldn't watch alone because you would immediately want to discuss with someone which side of the fence you would sit on and count the dire consequences. Is there even a right side?
If you scan youtube videos about ISIS, terrorists, etc. you will see Muslims constantly attacking the US and UK for killing "hundreds of thousands" of people in Iraq and Afghanistan while defending the Taliban, ISIS, and terrorists for merely killing thousands--maybe tens of thousands tops. But of course that's not a valid argument to just cite numbers killed. The issue is intention: are the US and UK targeting--intentionally--innocent people? No. They are targeting military targets. Do innocent people get killed, either by mistake or by being too close to the bad guys? Absolutely. Is this a good thing? No. But the other side--Taliban, ISIS, terrorists--intentionally target innocent people. It's not a mistake, it's a strategy. And that is the moral difference. If you don't see that difference, this is the movie for you.

I do know that the US military academies have courses in ethics. Why? Because they don't want their officers wondering about the ethics of following an order. "Do I pull the trigger?" the drone operator wonders… I think in real life he (and she, his partner) would have been either court martialed or relieved of duty and sent to Nome Alaska to count seals for a few years. The time to debate right and wrong is not when you're about to pull the trigger, it's before you decide to join up and take an oath of allegiance and obedience. 

Helen Mirren is a great actress. But she is in her late 60s. I think you would be hard pressed to find ANYONE in their late 60s in any armed forces in the US or UK. The character she played would probably be in their 40s, if not younger. Same with Rickman's character--he should have been maybe in his 50s. So that part is simply unrealistic. And of course that takes away from whatever realism the movie tries to achieve.

Let's go back to WW II. Does anyone in their right mind think that there was 1% of the hand- wringing you see in this movie about decisions to bomb Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, or Nagasaki? It's unthinkable. Does anyone know of any bomber pilot who thought to himself when he was over the target "Oh, one of my bombs might inadvertently kill an innocent person"? That's just silly. And the British as the big ditherers? Really? Let's run some history back: the Luftwaffe is on a raid against RAF bases. One of its bombers didn't drop its bombs on the intended target. So they dropped them on a suburb of London, not to bomb London per se, but just to lighten their payload so they could return to base. The British response? The entire Bomber Command set out the next night to bomb Berlin. That annoyed Hitler just a little bit, and thus we have the birth of the London Blitz. 

Another gratuitous feature of the movie is showing females as sentimental softies. The female minister in Whitehall doesn't want to kill an innocent person under any circumstances. The drone operator in Nevada cries when the little girl is killed. I'm not sure if the director wanted this message to come across: "You can't count on women when it counts." But that's the message. I'm not sure if this is true, but I do know that if I were depending on the female soldier next to me to pull the trigger to save my life, I wouldn't want her to get all teary and weepy because she was thinking about the family of the guy in her sights. I'd want her to pull the trigger as quickly as she could.

So basically this is an unrealistic anti-war propaganda piece. Well done, yes. But it presents a false dichotomy and is unrealistic on several levels. And of course we don't see the "enemy" debating any of these issues at all. Maybe that's the movie that should be made--the hours of debate and hand-wringing that went on in extremist HQ before the November Paris massacre. I'm sure they were all heart-broken that they had to kill 130 innocent people to achieve their military goal of…what? Killing innocent people? Please.

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