Review: Eye in the Sky

Dame Helen Mirren stars as a military intelligence Colonel under the command of Lt. General Alan Rickman. The film concerns Mirren remotely overseeing a drone operation in Kenya. A band of terrorists are gathered in one small house that has been surveilled, with plans to capture when the time is right. However, orders soon change to a ‘kill’ mission when a terrorist attack is believed to be imminent, despite the area being quite crowded with civilians. Now the American drone pilots (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox) under Mirren’s command are given the order to blow the house up. Baruch Abdi is a local operative in Kenya, Jeremy Northam plays the by-the-book British Defence Minister, Iain Glen is the British Foreign Secretary suffering a bout of the literal shits, and Michael O’Keefe turns up briefly as Glen’s American counterpart, who is seemingly more concerned with playing table tennis than anything else.

Critics seemed to rather like this 2016 Gavin Hood (“Rendition”, “Ender’s Game”) flick about drone warfare. In theory it might sound like a good idea, but the following 100 minutes show that if it is indeed an idea with promise, Hood and screenwriter Guy Hibbert (A TV veteran) have well and truly botched the execution. It’s a mixture of talking heads and basically like watching someone (Dame Helen Mirren) watch someone else play a computer game. Hell, Aaron Paul is practically playing with a joystick the whole time. Riveting stuff…or the exact opposite of riveting. Yeah, let’s go with that. I mean, imagine a feature-length episode of “24” where the hero spends 99% of the time waiting to be told he can go into action and kill the bad guys. It’s absurdly dramatically inert and leaves most of its pretty prestigious cast hanging or delivering dry exposition. I think Hood and Hibbert want to draw us in emotionally to the subject of drone warfare, so that we’ll both think and feel about it. However, despite good work by Dame Helen Mirren and decent jobs by Jeremy Northam and Barkhad Abdi, the film has the opposite effect. The film actually proves to be the cinematic equivalent of its own subject, an unfortunate piece of irony as we’re taken out of the drama and removed from it rather than drawn into it. The only way this would’ve worked would be to focus mostly on Abdi, the little girl, and all the other innocent Kenyans, with the military and political characters only occasionally chiming in. Truth be told even then the subject matter wouldn’t appeal to me personally, but I think it would undoubtedly make for a superior film than the one we get. There’s just no tension, investment, or engagement here as the military and political talking heads dither about and natter on and on uselessly. I get the point, but I was left entirely cold by the approach.

In his last film appearance even the late Alan Rickman looks bored out of his mind in a film that has him playing barely more than a ‘type. Iain Glen, meanwhile never recovers from his character’s thoroughly undignified entrance. The film clearly wants to make diplomats look like “Yes, Minister” buffoons, and that’s a gross oversimplification. Others may disagree but this drone warfare flick for me has been given a wrong-headed execution that never draws you in like it should. Mirren is good, but I didn’t care. It’s dry, inert, and pretty terrible.

Rating: D


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