Title: Eye In The Sky
Director: Gavin Hood
Major Players: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman
Out Of Five: 3.5
Bad day at the office? Watch Helen Mirren in Eye In The Sky and you might decide it was actually a doddle compared with what she has to contend with. Whether you agree with how she handles it, however, is quite another matter.
This is a film anchored in contemporary fact. On a military base in the UK, Colonel Powell (Mirren) is in charge of an operation in Kenya to arrest three high-ranking members of Al-Shebab. A drone has tracked them down, but that’s about the only part of the plan that goes smoothly. As Powell copes with politicians in Whitehall and on the other side of the world, as well as the drone operatives in their Las Vegas container, the mission changes from capture to destroy. But as the trigger to release the missile is within a whisker of being squeezed, something comes into view that changes the situation all over again …..
The story is set up like a tidily orchestrated jigsaw, with its various characters spread across Nairobi, the UK, Nevada, Whitehall, China, and elsewhere, sometimes purely through the military equivalent of Skype. And in the centre of it all is Mirren, who’s been pursuing the trio in question – one of them, a woman, is a British national (think the so-called White Widow) – for six years and today is the day. So nothing, but nothing is going to get in her way. The discovery that the terrorists are planning an attack of their own changes the game plan and the drone is primed ready to fire a missile. Which is when a little girl selling bread comes between Mirren and her target. What should she do? Endanger the life of one little girl to save several hundred? Or protect her and let several hundred other people die?
Frustratingly for Mirren, she has to play it by the book up to a point and ask for legal advice – and the buck is promptly passed up the chain, involving the Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence, the American Secretary of State ……. When she eventually gets that decision, it’s partly through her own ruthless determination. She coerces one of her team to be creative with his calculations about the blast area, raising the perennial question about means and ends.
It’s a film that’s also tinged with sadness as it’s Alan Rickman’s last appearance on the big screen. He’s Mirren’s General, and gives a nicely judged performance, allowing us to see the military man and the fallible one under that uniform. He’s promised to buy a special doll for his granddaughter but finds out he’s bought the wrong one. Does it really matter, he asks in agony. Silly granddad! Of course it does. But he’s also the voice of the professional soldier, somebody with direct experience of combat – unlike Monica Dolan’s junior minister who, as he tartly points out, has experienced the whole incident along with her coffee and biscuits.
In fact, the whole movie benefits from a very solid cast. Mirren is less glamorous than in some of her previous roles, but she has a backbone of pure steel, refusing to let emotion get in the way of completing her mission. Aaron Paul is the drone operator who’s in the job because it’s four years’ work and finds it difficult to follow orders. But keep an eye on some of the smaller roles: Monica Dolan in particular, and also Barkhad Abdi as the man on the ground who is quite possibly the little girl’s only hope of getting away before the missile strikes. Not that she knows that.
It’s good, topical, intelligent stuff, which manages to avoid being jingoistic or flag waving. The focus is on the human dilemmas that go with modern, long distance warfare. There’s been quite a few drone movies recent years and there will be more, but this one ripples outwards and shows how the person squeezing the trigger is at the end of a very long line – one that ping-pongs up and down when it comes to making a decision.
Eye In The Sky is released in cinemas on Friday, 15 April and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 14 April.