Tuesday 19 April 2016

Eye In The Sky

Bird’s Eye View To A Kill

Eye In The Sky
2016 UK Directed by Gavin Hood
UK cinema release print.

Okay then... as I said on Twitter the other day, Eye In The Sky is not to be confused with the famous Philip K. Dick novel of the same name. This production is nothing to do with that. There seems to be so many movies made these days which have exactly the same title as a previously made film or a novel that I wonder why the distributors don’t realise that a lot of the people, on hearing about their product, just assume it’s either a remake or an adaptation of something that has come before.

That being said, I’m glad I mentioned PKD briefly because, as I was watching this movie, I realised that if this had been made even 30 years ago, that it would have been a science fiction story. And by that I mean, it explores themes which, if it had been written a few decades ago, would have been dipping into exactly the same issues of morality and sacrifice in a totally invented setting, which could have been fairly similar to the real life situations being dramatised right here and now in this movie as a reflection of our times.

If an old sci-fi writer of the 1950s had wished to explore the moral dilemma of the one life cut short to prevent the loss of many more, he might well have invented this exact kind of scenario to be able to expand the exploration of that issue to something which he wouldn’t have been able to arrive at in a conventional narrative form at that point in time. The fact that we are now living in an era where we can snoop and kill from a distance, with just the press of a button, means we are able to explore exactly the same themes in much the same way... that is to say, quite intently.... without having to create a whole new fictional world for the characters to live in and ask their questions. Which is kinda scary, actually, if you think about it.

The film is mostly set in rooms with groups of people watching the outside action, some of which we are also pulled into, on multiple screens. Helen Mirren stars as Colonel Katherine Powell, who is leading a surveillance and capture operation via military drone, to detain a specific terrorist. However, as the ground zero of the operation shifts and it becomes apparent that two terrorists will soon be leaving a house wearing armed suicide bomb jackets, she needs the clearance to order an airstrike before the terrorists leave the dwelling and kill many innocent people. However, the person on the end of a phone actually firing the drone doesn’t want to kill an innocent young girl selling bread outside by the target. So the film becomes about the ever increasing tension as Mirren has to liaise with her superior Lieutenant General Frank Benson, played in his last film role by the late, great Alan Rickman, and he has to then liaise with his superiors... with each set of people ascending in rank looking to pass the buck up to the next person in charge, leading up to the Prime Minister, because nobody can make a decision to injure and possibly kill the little girl.... among other issues in the complex, shades of grey moral dilemma which the film depicts.

Everyone is good in this. Mirren and Rickman are superb, obviously, but pretty much everyone in this movie is stand up and they keep the atmosphere quite compelling throughout the running time. There are some especially taut scenes with one of the two electronic surveillance people who uses fake birds and flying, ersatz insects as camera eyes... something which the aforementioned Philip K. Dick might certainly have used himself in this kind of scenario... only to him it would still have been speculative science fiction. Anyway, the sequence where the agent in question tries to buy all of the bread to get the little girl out of the area before the air strike happens is quite fraught and suspenseful in its own right and it’s really, almost unbearable to watch some of the sequences with the amount of suspense the writers are pouring on here. Great stuff.

The film takes place mostly in just four or five rooms and also the streets outside the target area... with parts of the interior of the target being relayed via a flying surveillance bug at certain key points in the movie. Therefore, I would have to say that, while it’s not the most cinematic of movies in terms of the way the visual content adds to the understanding of the situation, it would certainly make an excellent stage show, I reckon. All you would need is the pre-recorded video footage... I understand the movie takes place in real time... and the interior sets compartmentalised and lit up when required for the various sets of dialogue. Somebody really should have a go at this sometime.

Nevertheless, whether it’s a stage play or not, the adaptability of it as such and the secondary nature of the visuals doesn’t take away from the fact that this is still good cinema, fraught with tension, which will have you hanging on the edge of your seat. And I’m happy to say that the score by Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian, mixing cold and sinister electronic music with occasional ethnic undertones, is doing an absolutely brilliant job throughout the movie. It’s not something I expected to either like or to be so outstanding but it fits the film like a glove, supporting and enhancing the emotions, sometimes informing them, in every way you would hope. I’m looking forward to the CD release in May so I can have a better listen to it away from the movie, I can tell you.

But whether you like the score or not, Eye In The Sky is a movie which points the audience to a moral dilemma and doesn’t glibly try to solve the issue in a simple manner. Each set of actions has their own repercussions as the drama unfolds and the film doesn’t spoon feed you the answers to those problems... mainly because there really aren't any clear cut solutions if you let emotions get in the way. That’s not to say that the film cops out at the end... this one has a very definite finishing point and it won’t leave you hanging. That being said, it won’t go out of its way to make much of a judgement either... these are big issues and the movie is not silly enough to take sides too easily. The point of the drama, I believe, is to make you think about these issues of collateral damage and take the questions home with you. It’s not an easy issue to resolve and it doesn’t want to try. However, what this film may do, if enough people see it, is remind us that these issues exist in real life and maybe help us reflect on how the hell humanity got into this kind of mess in the first place. Not exactly a feel good movie, to be sure, but one which has a certain resonance and I can only recommend this one as something which will certainly keep your brain occupied. Don’t miss out on this one... it’s pretty great.


  1. Such an intense film. I liked your closing take on how it presents the moral dilemmas.

    - Zach

  2. Hi there,

    Thanks again fro reading and for taking the time to comment here.