Published Sep 15, 2015After a couple of films dealing with the fantastical side of morality within the military industrial complex (Ender's Game, and to a lesser degree, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), South African director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) heads most of the way back to earth for this uneven drone warfare drama.
Helen Mirren takes the lead in a successful spin on the sort of gruff, get-the-job-done-by-any-means-necessary sort of gung-ho military colonel typically depicted as a somewhat villainous white man prone to asserting his authority by screaming until his face throbs red like a stubbed toe (thanks, Jack Nicholson). Eye in the Sky offers more complexity than that. Mirren's Colonel Katherine Powell is concerned with the cold hard logic of saving as many lives as possible, and when confronted by time-wasting bureaucracy in a matter that could potentially cost hundreds of lives, her ire manifests as exasperated questioning rather than unhelpful brow beating.
To give context: Colonel Powell is the remote officer in charge of a joint British-American drone team engaged in a mission to capture a radicalized British woman working with Somali terrorist group Al Shabab. The flexibility of the rules of engagement — particularly on friendly foreign soil — is put to the test when drone surveillance uncovers evidence of a planned suicide bombing. This spurs a running gag in which everyone Powell seeks authorization from to approve a drone strike insists on "referring up," i.e., playing hot potato with the responsibility of being the one to give a kill order.
Unfortunately, this moderately humorous jab at culpability avoidance proves to be the most enthralling aspect of the plot, and the nearly farce-like string of phone calls to higher authorities, including a perpetually pooping Jorah Mormont (Game of Thrones' Iain Glen) as the Foreign Secretary, somewhat derails the gravity of the issue at hand more than it lightens the mood or pointedly calls out the inefficiency of middle management. It doesn't help that most of the film's tension is derived from watching a nearly static scene in which the audience's primary concern is whether or not a drone pilot (Aaron Paul) is ordered to press a button. Ideologically, it's a heavy proposition, but even with all the potential of drone cinematography, Gavin Hood doesn't manage to translate that tension in a cinematically effective manner.
Despite perfectly serviceable performances and a message that doesn't shirk the moral complexity of the situation, Eye in the Sky doesn't have quite enough insight, or the stylistic panache, to make the experience resonate. (eOne)