Review: Eye in the Sky (TIFF 2015)
PLOT: A British General (Helen Mirren) must navigate a political and moral minefield while commanding a drone strike on a notorious terrorist who's planning a suicide bombing.
REVIEW: EYE IN THE SKY gets everything right that GOOD KILL got wrong. Another take on drone warfare, director Gavin Hood's film is good enough that it'll likely hit reset on his career in a big way, with him returning to the gritty style of film-making he displayed with TSOTSI before his Hollywood detour on the much-maligned X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (although his ENDER'S GAME was decent). While GOOD KILL tried to examine the psyche of a burnt-out fighter pilot forced into drone duty, EYE IN THE SKY is far more ambitious. Taking place almost entirely in real time (or something close to it) the film centers on a mission to eliminate a husband and wife terrorist team. With one being a British National and the other being an American, the result is a join operation where every decision must be carefully weighed despite the gravity of the operation.
What's especially effective about EYE IN THE SKY is how it consistently refuses to take the moral high ground. Most of the plot hinges on a young girl who's wandered into the kill zone and risks becoming collateral damage. A lovely girl who sells bread in an area dangerously populated by Islamic Fundamentalists, we see how the people in Britain and the U.S must weigh the girl's life against the chance to eliminate terrorists responsible for hundreds of murders, with another deadly operation in the making. It's not an easy answer and Hood's film never spoon-feeds the audience asking us to either condemn the operation or consider it a no-brainer. Both sides are examined.
Helen Mirren has her strongest, most atypical role in awhile as the hard-nosed general commanding the operation. Tough in a way that evokes Judi Dench in the Bond movies, Mirren avoids playing her as a hard-ass, with us seeing the professional, compassionate way she tries to treat her underlings and keep them from assuming any guilt, even though we know that she considers the strike her duty kid or no kid. Alan Rickman similarly is cast against type as Mirren's commander, who works in the P.M's office and must gently convince a nervous minister (a funny and permanently sweaty Jeremy Northam) that a strike is worthwhile.
Aaron Paul represents the American contingent, playing the pilot who'll have to deliver the payload, and Paul plays him as deeply convicted and conscientious. Paul who rarely moves from his pilot seat conveys tons of emotion ranging from rage at the cold-bloodedness of the orders coming down to resignation at the fact that the mission is probably a necessary evil.
Unlike GOOD KILL, EYE IN THE SKY also delivers as more than a simple morality tale. Hood brings his Hollywood experience to the table, opening up the story in a way that turns it into a rip-roaring thriller, with CAPTAIN PHILLIPS' Barkhad Abdi as the agent on the ground thrust into danger with a nifty parkour-style chase thrown-in for good measure. The movie even has a sense of humor, with Iain Glen's food-poison afflicted politician helping organize a military attack while sweating his way through a brutal bout of diarrhea.
While Hood does occasionally get manipulative in his use of the adorable girl, on the whole EYE IN THE SKY is a remarkably efficient thriller, with dynamic, disciplined direction by Hood. While it hasn't found a US distributor (yet) I have no doubt that EYE IN THE SKY will generate amazing buzz coming out of the fest as it works as both serious, political commentary and a superb thriller with some incredibly dynamic set-pieces. This is a real TIFF sleeper.