Film: Eye in the Sky
Director: Gavin Hood
Primary Cast: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Northam, Monica Dolan, Richard McCabe, Aisha Takow, Iain Glen, Gavin Hood, Ebby Weyime, Babou Ceesay, Vusi Kuene
US Release Date: 1 April 2016
Gavin Hood’s film about drone warfare—and about the surveillance, collateral damage, politics, and bureaucracy involved in such warfare—plays out all over the globe and involves a wide array of characters. Narratively, the film is anchored by Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren), who leads a mission to capture Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi from a base in her home country of Britain. Throughout the film, viewers are repeatedly taken from the US to Nairobi to Britain and back (and even to Malaysia and China) while they watch the drama surrounding Powell’s mission unfold. Along the way, they get to know a variety of military personnel, government officials, spies, and civilians, all of whom are tangled in a conflict that is far larger than any of them and that is well out of their control.
While Eye in the Sky starts out with some simmering tension and even a considerable amount of promise, Hood soon makes it clear that he far more interested in making a serviceable film than he is in making a great one. The film boasts a talented cast, it deals with problems that need addressing, and it includes moments of genuine suspense. And yet, it’s still not quite worth an $11 ticket. Once viewers figure out what Eye in the Sky is up to (which doesn’t take long), there is very little reason for them to keep watching. Any moral dilemmas that the film is interested in are introduced early, and its efforts to create tension begin to fail once the film starts repeating itself in order to delay its rather predictable climax. Eye in the Sky has a message, but it runs out of things to say (and of ways to say them) pretty quickly, and it’s noticeably lacking in cinematic style and creativity.
There are some well-written instances in Hood’s latest, but they are obscured by a multitude of overstated lines and overly obvious moments. Eye in the Sky’s script also becomes more and more contrived as the film continues, which makes it increasingly difficult for viewers to remain engaged. In fact, by the end, Hood’s political-military drama-thriller feels much more like it was written for television than for the big screen.
Hood and writer Guy Hibbert do make an admirable choice in trying to tell their story of drone warfare from multiple perspectives. Unfortunately, they do not execute this type of storytelling in a compelling fashion. Instead of presenting a film that overwhelms viewers with the intensity, the complexity, and the tragedy of drone surveillance and the war against terrorism, Eye in the Sky feels incredibly flat. The film is also too obvious in its emotional manipulation, and its attention is spread so thin that no part of it is strong enough to make much of an impression. Unlike Colonel Powell, Hood and Hibbert are not strongly focused on a single goal, and Eye in the Sky is muddy, uninteresting, and ineffective as a result.
For the most part, the issues that Eye in the Sky presents are incredibly worthwhile, and they deserve a place in the public consciousness. However, the film’s take on them is not new enough to make it worth watching. With the potential the exception of a few actors, so much about Eye in the Sky is painfully ordinary, and this most certainly includes its moral and political inquiry and posturing.
Put another way, Eye in the Sky is simply not as important, as intelligent, or as groundbreaking as it seems to think. Without minimizing the (very serious) issues at hand, the truth is that viewers could get all of the issue-related information and questions contained in the film by watching the news for a few minutes (or by just using a little common sense). If someone needs Eye in the Sky to tell them that war-related decisions are difficult, that bureaucracy gets in the way of action, or that children die in war, then maybe they’ll get something out of the film. Beyond that, it doesn’t offer much; aside from the fact that Eye in the Sky asked me to me to consider just how many people may be involved in the making of certain military decisions, it did virtually nothing to augment how I think about the events that it depicts. At the same time, it also failed to hold my attention, and I was itching for it wrap up well before it actually did so.
There are numerous instances of skilled acting in Eye in the Sky, and I don’t mean to diminish the talents of its cast with all my complaining. Mirren, Rickman, Takow, Northam, Abdi, and others are clearly capable performers, and—thanks largely to their efforts—there are some worthwhile moments scattered throughout the film. That said, the characters they play aren’t developed enough for them to make as much of an impact as they might have otherwise. For the most part, the entire cast of Eye in the Sky does what is asked of them, but their efforts still don’t add up to much.
I should have trusted my instincts and known that nothing great would come from watching a film directed by the same man who gave the world X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Unfortunately, I allowed a handful of respected actors and a bafflingly high RT score to sway me. As a result, I threw away an evening watching a movie that, while fine in number of ways, might as well not exist at all. Cinematically speaking, there is very little in Eye in the Sky worth paying attention to. And what the film does have in terms of content is not enough to sustain it (or to change the fact that it’s bland and forgettable). Those who don’t mind watching predictable procedurals or who are fine with being manhandled into feeling sad and exasperated might enjoy parts of Eye in the Sky enough not to notice just how thoroughly unspectacular the whole thing is. Others—unless they have literally never taken even a second to consider the costs and complications of modern warfare—would be better off watching something else. Eye in the Sky is average, and it left me without any reason to pay attention to whatever Hood does next.
Until Next Time
I suppose I won’t apologize for a lack of reviews, but I will say that I find my current posting pace rather unfortunate.
Anyway, thank you so much for reading. As usual, I’d like to take use this chunk of text at the end of the post to encourage you to follow this blog on twitter. I also welcome comments and movie recommendations.