‘Eye in the Sky’ presents an ethical landmine

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Eye in the Sky (2016)

Directed by Gavin Hood

After a senior terrorist leader was killed last week in a U.S. drone strike, President Obama admitted, “It wasn’t as precise as it should have been, and there’s no doubt civilians were killed that shouldn’t have been.” Director Gavin Hood’s cerebral war movie “Eye in the Sky” couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time. Knowing that drone warfare is happening all the time, all over the world, “Eye in the Sky” leaves you with an ethical quandary in your head and a sick feeling in your gut.

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In a dark war room in London, Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) leads a joint air mission surveilling a top terrorist’s meeting with new recruits in Nairobi, Kenya. In another part of London, Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), the country’s Attorney General (Richard McCabe), and other higher-ups watch the surveillance taking place on screen, giving their permissions when necessary. Across the globe, in a small control center outside of Las Vegas, 2nd Lt. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and newbie Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) operate the drone that Col. Powell is using. On the ground, in Nairobi, an undercover agent (Barkhad Abdi) reports on what the drone can’t see. All miles apart, all disconnected from the civilian casualties that may or may not occur if they go through with their intended air strike. As they fight their inner battles, as well as each other, the true cost of war begins to reveal itself.

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For much of the movie, Golden Globe nominee Aaron Paul’s incredible talent is wasted. He spends what little time he has on screen saying short, unemotional lines. Writer Guy Hibbert doesn’t give us much in the way of characterization, for Paul’s character or any others, really. Maybe that’s intentional. It keeps the focus on their thoughts and action right in that moment. Regardless, Helen Mirren gets the screentime she deserves as the determined Colonel in charge of the mission. Alan Rickman, in his last on-screen role before his death in January, delivers the line of the movie (I won’t spoil it). But sadly, much of the dialogue between him and Mirren occur via short snippety phone calls or, even less interesting, instant messages. The two brilliant actors don’t get many chances to play off one another. Barkhad Abdi, as the only main character in any immediate danger, is one of the few sparks of life in a film full of white people sitting around a room. It’s like “12 Angry Men,” but with higher stakes. “Eye in the Sky” does everything it can to keep you emotionally intrigued, including having Paul raise his voice even though he’s in a small room with only one other person. It doesn’t need that. It’s not your average war movie. There’s no edge-of-your-seat action—more like hand-on-your-chin thought provocation. And that’s okay, because the characters are merely pawns—the most convenient way for you to understand the overarching moral dilemma. “Eye in the Sky” is more than just a single story; it’s a representation of thousands of stories that haven’t been told.

7/10

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