THE word gripping is an understatement when asked to describe Eye in the Sky, a morality thriller about drone warfare that benefits from a convincing cast including Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and especially, the late Alan Rickman.
In Nairobi, a safe house housing potential terrorists is placed under surveillance, led by Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) from military headquarters in Hertfordshire. When it becomes clear that the terrorists are preparing an imminent attack, Powell requests authorisation to allow a drone strike to hit the area.
A major dilemma is placed though when a young girl selling bread is located near the targeted area, which drone pilot Steve Watts (Paul) is eager to delay until she leaves. In a government building in London, a team headed by Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Rickman) also observe the events in Nairobi, and find themselves in the delicate position of debating which way to proceed.
One way is withdrawing the strike, aware that a possible figure of 80 people could be killed if the terrorists are not. The other way is approving the strike, aware that the terrorists will die, but so could the girl, sparking a potential propaganda headache.
The idea of weighing human life is what makes this film succeed so much, in that it grabs the attention of the viewer and sustains it. It makes us as viewers query what we would do in such circumstances, and the idea of one young girl being killed along with a group of terrorists to stop many more like her is one that lingers in the mind.
The action shifts from the base in Nevada to Nairobi to England, where the diversity of lifestyles are clearly presented. The young girl in the village is chastised by her father for dancing with a Hula hoop in the presence of those who don’t like that, whilst Rickman in full uniform in seen in a toy shop discussing which doll his granddaughter wants.
Along with Benson, four other people including the Attorney General, spend time arguing for each situation with the notion of being damned-if-done, damned-if-not being detailed closely. The idea of the girl dying for the supposed greater good is made interesting when one character points out of the negative press that such an event will have. Thinking of the political element does suggest selfishness but more to it, but also leaves the idea of what even that can result in.
Locked away in this building are these characters whose arguments and viewpoints make for the best scenes in the film, especially as Mirren’s character gradually becomes impatient seeking approval from military headquarters.
The element of suspense is also key, most notably when the video bug that is secretly filming the terrorists breaks down, at a crucial point in the meeting, leaving more dilemmas to where to progress. This idea of building the suspense only seeks to make the dilemma all the more challenging, yet more rewarding for viewers looking for a genuine morality story.
It is also successful in detailing the idea of almost being caught out when Nairobi-based undercover agent Jama (Barkhad Abdi, from Captain Phillips) is forced to make up situations to prevent others from working out his identity or his motives.
An even more enjoyable scenario is expressed when the Foreign Secretary (Iain Glen), whom Benson and his colleagues are trying to get hold of, falls ill with food poisoning whilst in Singapore. Involving not just another person, but one with higher authority, in working out the dilemma is welcoming and the film never once feels overloaded with characters, all of whom contribute something vital to the story.
The intrigue as to what could happen is further heightened when Mirren requests a percentage based on what the chances are of the girl dying in the event of the strike. 65% is stated but that is decreased to 45% if the strike occurs on a different side of the building, but as her guide points out, these do not guarantee anything. There is this idea that percentages will help but then again, will they?
They tell us that there is more than one likely outcome rather than a straightforward scenario where one sees it and assumes that was inevitable. Unpredictability is visible here and the term ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ does surface when viewing this.
It helps fuel the intensity, especially later in the film when it seems that there could be more than just one innocent victim involved with time not on anyone’s side. By the end, many will almost certainly leave with different opinions, evidence that the film has succeeded at engaging its audience.
A strong cast helps Eye in the Sky work not just as an intense, gripping, intriguing and suspenseful thriller, but a poignant piece considering it features Alan Rickman’s last live-screen performance, one that shows how consistently effective an actor he was.