Eye in the Sky full movie review - Thought provoking
This story at times appears so complex that it helps to set out up front the simple basic situation, stripped to the bare essentials. In a small house in Nairobi, two terrorists are strapping bombs onto their bodies.
A reasonable assumption is that once they leave the house, they will head for a public place to finish their suicide mission that will result in massive casualties. The house, together with the sinister occupants, can be demolished by a missile launched from a drone attack, quite common in today's warfare. This seems the best solution as the risk of causing any collateral damage is calculated to be minimal.??until a young girl is spotted setting up a stall, too close to the house, to sell bread. The dilemma is only too painfully obvious. If you strike, this innocent, likable girl would most likely become collateral damage. If you don't, what is at stake is much higher, but with less certainty.
Now let us, step by step, add the complexity. The "sinister occupants" referred to above comprise not only the suicide bombers who are just pawns, but also three terrorists on the most-wanted list for East Africa, numbers 2, 4 and 5 respectively. Killing them will save many lives. But the operation has been launched as one for "capturing", not "killing". Adding to the complication is that these three are either British or American citizens.
Who are the people behind this? Too many. At the operational command level stationed in Sussex is Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), supported by a team of advisers on military intelligence, casualty assessment, legal considerations and so on. Lt. Gen. Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), her immediate superior and the one to give the go-ahead, is in conference in Whitehall with a gathering of British high officials. To press the trigger to execute the actual strike from a military base in Las Vegas is Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), the drone "pilot" (not actually sitting in the drone plane) who has only been involved in reconnaissance and never participated in any attack. Providing more technical support is a group based on a warship in Hawaii. Finally, right on site in Nairobi is a local undercover agent (Barkhad Abdi, who was never in front of a movie camera before when he acted opposite Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips"), looking like a native African villager but in actual fact a technical expert operating mechanical surveillance devices with amazing deft (things that look like metal birds and beetles). All these people, literally all around the globe, are staring at the same satellite screens that show in minute details the house, both outside and inside (thanks to the beetle). Facial details are of such high quality that they allow the application of highly sophisticated recognition tools to instantly confirm that these are indeed numbers 2, 4 and 5.
Having fun yet? The fun hasn't even started. Confirmation of the identities of the terrorists clears the first obstacle but this is still a "capture" mission. Discovery of the suicide bombers is overwhelmingly persuasive to turn this into a "kill" mission. Col. Powell is delighted that the terrorists that she has been tracking for six years become welcome "bonuses". The legality of the "kill" operation is cleared efficiently and categorically. But there are always people with saintly morality values and standards. When questions are raised by such a one, Gen. Benson's weight cannot carry the day. Ducking, the minister who is supposed to make the decision seek refuse in the divinely wonderful cure-all: "refer up".
At this point, I cannot resist quoting a critic's witty comment, that a good alternate title of this movie can be "Passing the buck". And I may perhaps add that at this juncture I for one have an eerie feeling that I am watching Monty Python. Two people close to the top in their respective countries are inconveniently on foreign diplomatic missions. When located in Singapore, British foreign secretary has just fled the publicity function to his hotel room to entertain diarrhea. His physical predicament however does not prevent him from quickly pointing out that of the three terrorists, two are Americans. When tracked down in Beijing playing ping-pong, the American secretary of state efficiently saves the day, responding without batting an eyelash that the terrorists, by being such, are no longer considered American citizens. The expression on his face clearly says "How can these Brit idiots have such simple matters interrupt my ping-pong!"
When it looks like the coast is finally cleared and drone pilot Watts is about to press the button to launch the missile to send the terrorists to oblivion, he spots the aforementioned bread-vending girl setting up her stall at a spot where she has a 65% chance of being killed. The final coup that Col. Powell has to resort to is to persuade the technician to revise the estimate to 45%. To a professional accountant, this is all too familiar: cooking the books.
The revised, "kill" operation is executed. The three terrorist were killed. So was the innocent, extremely likable girl.
Apologies if I made this sound farcical. A critic has actually used the word "farce" to describe the movie. Let me make amends by saying that the tragic gravity finally sinks in when you see the blood-drained body of the girl carried to the hospital with the anxiety-stricken father and wailing mother by her side.
While "thriller" and "drama" are generally used to categorize this movie, it can arguably be considered a procedural, as in police procedural. We know next to nothing about the personal background of the characters. They are soldiers, diplomat, technicians, secret agents, terrorists and civilians unaware of their danger of becoming in an instant collateral damage.
The acting is top-notch and Rickman will be remembered in his farewell piece of work.