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Eye in the Sky

Universal // R // June 28, 2016
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by William Harrison | posted July 7, 2016 | E-mail the Author

THE FILM:

I was expecting Eye in the Sky to be more political than it is, and its straightforward approach to drone warfare is actually preferable to a two-hour sermon against either side. Director Gavin Hood makes a roundabout return to his native Africa, a decade after his breakout, Tsotsi. The titular "eye in the sky" is Helen Mirren's Col. Katherine Powell, who is stationed at a United Kingdom command center to oversee drone missions in Nairobi, Kenya. The film focuses on a short period of surveillance of a terrorist safe house, where several high-level targets are identified. The mission changes from capture to kill when the targets begin preparing for large-scale suicide warfare. A drone hovers above, ready to deliver a Hellfire missile, but Powell and company notice a young girl selling eggs within the blast zone, which causes a moral quandary.

Hood does a nice job setting the scene and introducing the various players without confusing the audience. The terrorists are mostly faceless, but one female is based on Samantha Lewthwaite, an Interpol-wanted radical that was married to 7/7 London terrorist bomber Germaine Lindsay. Involved are Powell; U.S. Air Force drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), stationed in Nevada; Kenyan field agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi); Lieut. General Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman), supervising from London; British Foreign Secretary James Willett (Iain Glen); and Minister of State Brian Woodale (Jeremy Northam), among others. Eye in the Sky manages to follow the decision-making protocols without becoming monotonous or overly technical. The film avoids passing judgment on the various chains of command, and I was interested to see the realistic, if partially fictional, process.

Rickman's character is a highlight. The late actor provides an excellent performance, and General Benson attempts to convince his gatekeepers that the loss of one nine-year-old girl pales in comparison to the hundreds that will die if the suicide vests are utilized. Watts stays icy but pragmatic, and sorts through the conflicting information he receives from across the globe. I enjoyed seeing the buck-passing between high-level officials who, understandingly, do not want to be labeled as the killers of an innocent girl. Eye in the Sky avoids taking a position on the ethics of drone warfare, and instead invites its audience to witness the complex process and make their own conclusions. The film is a dialogue-heavy 102 minutes, but it held my interest throughout. Hood keeps the momentum up, and each location is nicely integrated into the narrative.

My biggest criticism here is that Eye in the Sky feels slightly hollow and superficial, and it offers a relatively hands-off treatment of its players, perhaps to parallel the central issue of hands-off warfare. Mirren's character is the most complex in the lot of men and women with titles but no backgrounds. The closest the film gets to a true morality play is the scene where Powell asks a subordinate to report optimistic numbers on the young girl's chance of survival should the drone be fired. Some of the technology used here is apparently years from rollout, but the micro aerial vehicle that enters the safe house is impressive. These effects-driven sequences never detract from the human drama. I enjoyed Eye in the Sky, though it is not especially memorable. The performances are universally good, the narrative is satisfying and drone warfare is explored impartially.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is expectedly polished and impressive, with good fine-object detail, clarity and sharpness. There is a hint of digital softness, but colors do not bleed, black levels are overall good, and I noticed no aliasing or compression artifacts.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix offers clear, often-directional dialogue. The score is nicely integrated, and ambient effects, like crowd chatter and environmental noise, surround the viewer. There are a few action beats that make use of sound pans and the subwoofer. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This two-disc "combo pack" includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy, and both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. The discs come in a regular Blu-ray case that is wrapped in a slipcover. The extras are garbage. All you get are Perspectives (1:22/HD), a brief look at the movie's themes, and Morals (1:31/HD), where the cast talks for seconds about drone warfare.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The late Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren lead a pack of strong performers in Gavin Hood's drama about drone warfare. Eye in the Sky is interesting and entertaining, but could have dived deeper to provide a more memorable experience. Still, the movie is Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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