The description perceived from the buzz around Eye in the Sky, director Gavin Hood’s political war drama, was that it was supposed to be eye opening. Having watched the film, ‘eye opening’ hardly seems like a compliment at a time when movies are made mostly for entertainment purposes.
Beneath the sheer thrills, Eye in the Sky is actually a gripping critique on American foreign policy and also the incendiary cultural and political clashes it is causing while operating on foreign soil. Particularly when politics is concerned, it’s tough to render a movie that is both intelligent and entertaining. Much like Hood’s last noteworthy cinematic effort Tsotsi, Eye in the Sky is an ensemble effort in which several actors stand out.
Coming pretty close to the power of the material itself is Helen Mirren who plays Colonel Powell, an officer heading a joint drone mission in Kenya between the US, UK and Kenya. Their target – to capture a suspected group of terrorists presumed to be holed up in a safe house in Nairobi, and operate a drone to liquidate any unforeseen targets and threats.
Things take a moral turn when the mission evolves into one where the terrorists have to be killed rather than captured. This causes moral and legal problems for the three nations in charge of the operation, not to mention the presence of bystanders in the target area, and the looming threat of the public branding the nations as murderers operating with a license to kill.
While the movie possesses many admirable qualities, not the least of which being intellectually ambitious, the best thing about Eye in the Sky is that it offers different perspectives of the issue. The film literally cuts from one camp to another, and at times offers a POV from the drone itself. The drone pilots (Phoebe Fox and Aaron Paul) are themselves stuck in a Catch 22 situation, while on ground Kenyan operative (Barkhad Abdi) has his own views on the matter, while British Lieutenant General (Alan Rickman) is tasked with briefing his government about the situation and getting a green light to execute the mission.
The whole affair makes you really weigh the situation and wonder what you’d do in such a scenario. It also feels educational at some points - a noteworthy visual message is that the US and the UK teams operate from their home turf, comfortably barking orders in their chairs while the Kenyan soldiers are tasked with the dangerous stuff, by going on ground.
Director Hood also does a great job of filtering the movie’s message to make his point coherent and well rounded, rather than a loud blaring news channel like argument. This is neither a pro drone or anti drone film, this is a nice middle ground, and those susceptible to the movie's message will definitely be moved.
The film is intense as hell, but in taking the middle ground approach, there’s no mistaking its cynicism which reflects a faint possibility of hope. The conflict in Hood’s previous film Tsotsi was explored in an optimistic but realistic way that left the audience with a feeling that things might change.
In Eye in the Sky, Hood makes it pretty clear that we are all screwed. The powers that be are themselves puppets to higher powers, and people who should never win will win because they fight dirty and make no apologies for it, and if we’re to survive it is better to learn a thing or two from these people.
In India this film comes at a time when the only effective argument is the one that is the loudest, particularly now when the national pendulum has been swinging violently from the left to the right. So you may well learn something while watching the film. Not just because there are few films these days that possess as much intellect and purpose as this one, but because it also offers what you originally go to the movies for – fun.