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Eye in the Sky
Genre Thriller
 
Review:

Drone military warfare was at the heart of psychological thriller, Good Kill and thriller, Drones. It's now the subject of Gavin Hood's latest war drama thriller, Eye in the Sky, starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi and the late Alan Rickman.

We've entered a new age of war, where surveillance has become a double-edged sword functioning as a next generation terrorism counter-measure in exchange for a measure of privacy. Instead of training pilots to man air strikes, we're getting them to execute remote attacks from the safety of their booths.

Eye in the Sky throws us into a Catch 22, where a terrorist cell is targeted in Kenya only to be jeopardised by the appearance of a young girl, who enters the kill zone just as the drone pilot is cleared to destroy the house. With several key terrorists under one roof, the international politics around ordering the drone assault with a good chance of collateral damage, leaves Colonel Katherine Powell in a tricky situation.

Helen Mirren's star power and dramatic heft anchors Eye in the Sky. She's a seasoned actress, whose finesse takes this tense little-big thriller to the next level. It's an interesting role for her as she goes full military ops as a colonel trying to make a calculated global decision on an event that could devastate a family on a micro level, pitting one man against the good of mankind.

She's not alone, headlining a solid cast including: Alan Rickman, as a get-on-with-it British war minister, Aaron Paul as a plucky drone pilot and Barkhad Abdi as the infiltrator. It's further buttoned down by Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen and Babou Ceesay. While we'd like to see more substantial roles going their way, it's great to see a selection of South African talent chiming in with Carl Beukes, Kim Engelbrecht, James Alexander, Vusi Kunene and even Gavin Hood taking on some flak.

Hood orchestrates this focussed thriller in such a way that even though you know what it's building up to, you're still locked in by the drama and enthralled by the ever-tightening tension. He composes the man-on-the-ground story of a sweet-natured and impoverished Kenyan girl, trying to improve her circumstances under the duress of an inflexible culture. Setting it against an international pressure cooker military situation, where air-to-ground combat essentially gives the decision-makers the power to play God.

It's a thought-provoking drama, which carries the back room politics of a jury deciding the fate of an individual via video conference. Then, it's an authentic and well-crafted military thriller, weighing up the risk of sacrificing one life to potentially save thousands, and navigating the public relations of an international incident.

Eye in the Sky is consistent and uses its strong contrasts to create a natural tension, flipping from one command centre to another as they converge. The production values are strong, creating a convincing urban environment and carrying forth the modern weaponry and surveillance with some solid CGI.

There are one or two distractions: a tone-breaking substory involving a munitions company called IBS and seeing Gavin Hood acting in his own film for a change. However, these moments aren't disruptive enough to derail the train and the quality of the rest of the film more than makes up for them.

Eye in the Sky is a tense topical war drama thriller that is steady, thought-provoking, well-crafted and bolstered by a strong ensemble. It's a great conversation-starter, delving into the politics of war and getting to grips with our current estimation of the value of a human life. The back room discussions have heat, the on-the-street action is thrilling and it adds up to moving and thoughtful entertainment. It could've gone grittier, but checks enough boxes to make it worth giving your full attention.

The bottom line: Tense


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