An Anglo-American operation pins down a group of Somali terrorists in a small house in Kenya where they are about to embark on a suicide bombing. A missile strike is ordered on this house. Suddenly, a little girl wanders into the kill zone. Unfolding almost in real time, this soberingly thriller follows the tactical, legal and ethical implications of a drone operation in East Africa that unexpectedly escalates from a ‘capture’ to a ‘kill’ mission. ‘Eye In The Sky’ is panoramic, covering four continents. But it is sharply focused on only this one military mission. This mission involves military commanders, politicians, legal advisors, a drone pilot, local special forces, all eyeing the terrorists in the house.
High-tech surveillance is the eye in the sky, providing a telegraphic overview for all, including the audience. What could easily have been a talky, theatrical chamber piece is turned into a dynamic work of cinema by Oscar-winning director Gavin Hood. This is a war movie with no face-to-face combat, minimal gunfire, and the roles of the good and bad guys are ever-shifting. It showcases a new kind of war, defined by the remote targeting of unmanned drones and eerily silent images of people in faraway lands whose fate are not decided on the battlefield but at the push of a button many miles away. The characters and tense dialogue, comprised mainly of political double-speak and second-guessing, drives the action of this effective nail-biter, from the voyeuristic opening sequences, to an emotionally gripping life-and-death dramatic finale.
The premise is simple. Should they pull the trigger? The answers are far from simple, making this more of a moral than an action thriller. Is one assured death worse than a hundred probable ones? Does following an order absolve you of responsibility? Guy Hibbert’s script lets no one off the hook while allowing the narrative to stay in shades of moral ambiguities. The ensemble cast is exceptional across the board. Helen Mirren gives a performance of measured intensity, setting the tone for the entire movie while Barkhad Abid in a substantial role as the local go-between, shoulders the gritty urgency and mortal danger on the ground. But it is the late Alan Rickman who quietly steals the show. His parting shot packs a sudden punch, driving home the realisation that all his onscreen moments are gems. And how much he will be missed.