Right off the bat from the trailer I could tell three things about the movie. A) Alan Rickman = FUCK YEAH!!! B) This is Rickman’s final movie… depression, and C) the Japanese are struggling with canine robotics as it is. You expect me to believe that either the US or English military, two technologically inferior countries by comparison, have fully functional hummingbird and beetle cameras controlled by a Gameboy? As you can imagine, I was looking forward to Rickman and for that matter Helen Mirren, but not having the highest of hopes that the movie itself would be any good. Was it any good? That’s why I’m here, to drop my two cents into the jar of internet declarations. This is my honest opinion of EYE IN THE SKY.
The story follows the exploits of English Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), English Lieutenant Colonel Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), and United States Air Force drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and his co-pilot Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox). They are on the hunt for a few terrorists hiding out in a safe-house in Kenya, a mission that is supposed to result in their capture. However, the plan shifts to an order to kill when they see the terrorists with suicide bomb vests. But the plans become even more complicated when a little girl enters the picture and a struggle between morality and duty begins to consume this once simple mission.
I was honestly a little surprised that this movie was better than expected. Not amazing, but certainly not as bad as I thought it would be.
As you can tell from the summary, the basic premise is: terrorists. Kill them here and now with fewer casualties including this little girl, or let the terrorists go, saving the girl, but risk the terrorists detonating those suicide vests and kill many more. Just to lay down what position I fall in, my decision would have been to drop the bomb, kill the terrorists, possibly the little girl too, as the alternative is not preferable. But I have to admit, this is why I’m neither in the military, nor in politics, so I will never have to make these decisions that do clearly need to be debated beyond the immediate repercussions. Both sides of the argument are well argued, even if the argument “if we let them live, they’re going to kill more people” seems to be the only real thing said on that front. Of course, this is a difficult point to completely argue. War is a numbers game and this movie commits to this idea and never loses focus.
I have to say that with this clever writing, it’s clear that there is no clear right or wrong decision. Both have ramifications that could spell disaster, especially with the way that each side is argued. While killing the terrorists outright seems like the most logical course of action, it’s being made by those who seem particularly desperate to make the shot, as if they’re more blood-thirsty than objective. This is obviously not the case, you know why they are stressed out, but it’s an interesting observation regardless.
Also, I have to say, FINALLY! Paul is in a decent role that gave him something to work with. In TRIPLE 9, he was a stereotype mopey drunk. In NEED FOR SPEED, he was a knockoff of every character from the Fast and Furious franchise. Finally, we see a sliver of his talent as a drone pilot that has to be the one to drop the bomb on this building and possibly kill the girl. He definitely doesn’t want to do it and even has the balls to manipulate the rule book and demand a second opinion from the Colonel. While the cast as a whole is pretty damn good, Paul in particular stands out because of his rocky film career post-BREAKING BAD. While this isn’t his career best, and I hope he only gets bigger and better roles in the future, this is a fine launchpad.
But I think as strong as these elements are, there are more than a few little flaws. I won’t get into the fake and non-existent technology utilized, as it is as silly in the movie as it is in the trailer.
No, there are some lazy script elements. One scene, an argument will be presented and then argued. Another scene will take place, and then right after that scene, we go back to the same people who are stating the same exact argument that they did in the last scene they were featured in. In short, someone forgot to edit or get more creative with the physical dialog being exchanged between the characters.
The beginning also kind of drags. We know that these military folks are after some traitors and terrorists, but we aren’t given anything more about them. So there’s a lot of missing context as to why, for example, Colonel Powell is so damned adamant on killing her targets. She just appears obsessive, rather than deeply invested.
The little girl in question, Alia, played by the admittedly adorable Aisha Takow, is sadly not given much of a character. Because she’s relegated as the film’s “plot device” it’s hard to be truly invested in her well-being if there isn’t going to be a well-written reason why. Normally, I would say that would be fine, as the movie is told in the perspective of the military and political characters, and their detachment from her safety would be warranted, but the audience is indeed given a fair amount of screen time to watch her basically hula-hoop and sell bread. We are supposed to care about her, but it’s a chore to get that into her.
Reverting back to Colonel Powell, it should come as no surprise that Mirren is fantastic. Having said that, I feel like her character would have benefited from a character revision. While she complies with the legalities of every decision made, there’s always someone asking for an alternative. Colonel Powell seems oddly disinterested in obliging. Look, the situation is time sensitive, I get it. But… as the situation stands, these terrorists are sitting around doing diddly. There is clearly time to at least use the waiting that these characters are forced to go through for the big wigs to chime in with their approval to humor the pacifists and consider all possibilities, instead of being so one-tracked about it. It would show that Powell is not a machine and does care about the individual life, but still stands by her decision that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
Now we come to the final minutes of the movie. The decision’s been made to launch the missile and hope that Alia will survive. Bomb’s dropped, goes boom, poor Alia gets caught in the blast radius. Now it’s a matter of making sure the terrorists are dead.
Here are where the problems start. One of those terrorists isn’t dead. How did that happen? The blast radius of the missile demolished that building. This thing didn’t hit outside of the house, it’s just landed in a different room… of this tiny house. On a script level alone, this would have been an adequate place to wrap up the movie. We see Alia barely moving and the house is obliterated. Mourn the damage that was done, leave your post, go home for some serious R&R, and roll credits. Um… whoever wrote this thing seems to disagree with this more simplistic ending and decides, “No! One of the terrorists survives! So we have to drop another missile on top of him to guarantee death! That’ll add to the drama!” Er… it really doesn’t. It’s an unnecessary assault on your emotional balls because we are constantly force-fed shots of Alia caught in another blast radius along with her father. This is literally meant to yank out any additional feels out of you that you barely had to begin with. More tears fall from the characters, more heads are bowed in heartache, it’s a bit much and not in a good way.
And finally, I kind of wish that Alia’s fate was kept ambiguous. As far as these characters are concerned, she was still moving when those bombs were dropped. She was taken to a hospital, and for all they knew, could have survived. While we the audience knows that she dies, I think this ending would have been a lot more powerful if it wasn’t said what happened to her. The true horror of the cold calculus of war is that we really don’t know the lives lost. We can’t really count who died or not. There’s never exact numbers, only terrifying guesses. Alia could have been the face of that fact, but instead, this movie decides that we need to see her die in order to know the price of war. We kind of already know. This movie was hammering it in our heads throughout the past ninety minutes.
While the problems certainly are many, they’re too few to really deter you from getting drawn into the debate of whether or not the decisions made are for the best. Sure, there’s better war films out there, but it’s still a fairly gripping movie in its own right and carried by such acting giants like Mirren and Rickman, it’s a pretty solid watch.
My honest rating: a strong 3/5.