Eye in the Sky


 

The Film

Eye in the Sky is a 2016 British thriller film starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul and Barkhad Abdi. The film is directed by Gavin Hood and based on a screenplay by Guy Hibbert. Filming began in South Africa in September 2014.

Eye in the Sky stars Helen Mirren as a UK army Colonel and Alan Rickman as her commanding General, in command of a top secret drone operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. Through remote surveillance and on-the-ground intel, Powell discovers the targets are planning a suicide bombing and the mission escalates from 'capture' to 'kill.' But actions on the ground trigger an international dispute, reaching the highest levels of US and British government, over the moral, political, and personal implications of modern warfare. As taut as it is timely, Eye in the Sky offers a powerfully acted, and unusually thought provoking, variation on the modern wartime political thriller.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was distributed in the United States with a limited release on 11th March 2016. The film was released in the United Kingdom on 8th April 2016. It was the actor Alan Rickman's last film, and is one of two national posthumous releases starring Rickman, who died of pancreatic cancer in January 2016.

The film has received very positive reviews. Alan Rickman's performance as Lieutenant General Frank Benson has been particularly well received by critics, with Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times saying "Mr. Rickman was never nominated for an Academy Award and it's probably a long shot for a posthumous supporting actor for this film - but his work here is a reminder of what a special talent he possessed."

Alan Rickman as Lt General Frank Benson

Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell

 


Cinema Trailer

 

 


Critical Reception

The film has received very positive reviews. It holds a 92% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 96 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10.

The critical consensus reads: "As well as the moral dilemma at the heart of the film, Eye In The Sky is a first-class thriller. It’s riveting viewing that will have audiences collectively holding their breath during its many tension-filled scenes. It’s also a showcase for talented actors to sell the high stakes of the game, despite the fact their characters are mostly safely ensconced in a comfortable room, sitting on a leather chair and thousands of miles away from the fray.

Director Gavin Hood has achieved something few could — he made what is essentially 100 minutes of people standing in rooms and staring at screens incredibly compelling. It’s a master class in suspense."


The Guardian - Benjamin Lee

Eye in the Sky is first and foremost a thriller. but it’s main objective is to involve us in the action, not have us constantly being told what to think and when to think it. Hood has relied on terse and efficient storytelling to showcase the intricate morality of drone warfare and takes us through one very long and very stressful day in the lives of those tasked with making life or death decisions.

The focus is the hunt for key members of terrorist group al-Shabaab in the wake of the Nairobi shopping mall attack. After intel points at a meeting between three key members, a mission is launched to capture, or maybe kill, those involved. We witness the events unfold via a set of different locations and an intriguingly varied set of actors.

Helen Mirren plays a hard-edged Colonel stationed at a Northwood army base, Aaron Paul is a fresh-faced drone pilot in Nevada, Alan Rickman is a Lieutenant General surrounded by warring politicians in London and Captain Phillips Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi is an agent on the ground in Kenya.

But despite the ensemble cast, screenwriter Guy Hibbert refrains from filling in gaps that don’t need to be filled. Spare a couple of minor touches, backstory is absent. These are real people dealing with a situation that doesn’t allow for asides about their childhood or who’s waiting for them at home. Characters are revealed through their actions rather than via clunky monologues.

While it’s often tough for Hood to add much style to the stagey set of one-room locations, he does achieve some seat-edge suspense in a number of bravura sequences. Effortlessly switching between continents and maintaining authenticity in each, he ramps up the tension as morality is pitted against necessity with quick yet fateful choices being made. The intricacy and bureaucracy of these moments feels frustratingly real.

With the focus on the escalating drama, performances are unshowy. Mirren is reliably stern and it’s refreshing to see her in a role such as this, playing a character who, in a more Hollywoodised version, would undoubtedly be played by either a younger woman or a man.


The Philadelphia Inquirer - Molly Eichel

Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has been hunting two Islamic extremists for a year, one a British citizen formerly named Susan Danford (Lex King). Finally, she gets enough intel to deduce that they will be in Nairobi to recruit a British and American teen to their cause. Powell sets in motion a drone surveillance mission that is meant to help capture those she has spent so much time watching. But circumstances soon escalate, and her goal is no longer to capture, but to kill.

In her single-minded mission, Powell brings together men and women in uniform far away – an American drone pilot (Aaron Paul) and his new partner (Phoebe Fox), plus a group of high-level British officials (including Alan Rickman in his final screen performance) – who will ultimately decide the fate of Powell’s targets, as well as that of the little girl, who wanders into the drone strike space to sell bread.

The possibility of death or grave injury as collateral damage is debated back and forth. Is it OK to potentially kill a little girl if it means saving so many more people in the future?

'Eye in the Sky' is about the effects of fighting a war from the comfort of our home countries, rather than on the ground.

On one hand, the troops get to sit in safe zones on military bases, staring at computer screens. Higher-ups can pass the buck because the immediacy of war is not felt. The military’s goal – get the target – is so much more singular when the consequences feel so removed from human life. When it’s all over, they get to go home.

But, as Rickman’s Lt. Gen. Benson says, “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.” Paul’s Steve Watts may get to go back to his Las Vegas apartment, but that does not mean the weight of what he has done all night does not come home with him.

'Eye in the Sky' is best when it delves into the moral ambiguity of war, especially war’s new gray zones. Its scenes of these ambiguous military actions – mostly viewed on screen and through Orwellian cameras that can secretly make their way into private homes – work especially well because of the performances from the ensemble cast.

Mirren is icy and fierce. Rickman brings both levity and sorrow to his role as a soldier who has seen war from both sides: the conference room and battlefield. Paul, who was so good at playing tense scenes in 'Breaking Bad', perfectly conveys what it is like to push a button and know that you’re responsible for the death of countless people, many of whom had no idea they should not have gone to the market that day.

'Eye in the Sky' is disturbing, but it’s also balanced and ambivalent about what is right. If there’s one stance the movie firmly takes, it’s that no matter how far away people are from the battlefield, no one comes away unscathed.


Cast

Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell, a military intelligence officer
Alan Rickman as Lieutenant General Frank Benson
Aaron Paul as 2nd Lieutenant Steve Watts, a USAF drone pilot
Barkhad Abdi as Jama Farah, a Kenyan undercover agent
Jeremy Northam as Brian Woodale
Iain Glen as British Foreign Secretary James Willett
Phoebe Fox as Carrie Gershon, USAF
Armaan Haggio as Musa Mo'Allim
Aisha Takow as Alia
Richard McCabe as Attorney General George Matherson
Carl Beukes as Sergeant Mike Gleeson
Kim Engelbrecht as Lucy
Gavin Hood as Lt. Colonel Ed Walsh


 

Production

Gavin Hood – director
Ged Doherty – producer
Colin Firth – producer
David Lancaster – producer
Guy Hibbert – writer
Megan Gill – editor
Johnny Breedt – production designer
Nico Louw – sound recordist
Paul Hepker – composer
Mark Kilian – composer

Eye in the Sky is directed by Gavin Hood based on a screenplay by Guy Hibbert. The screenplay was a project initially being developed at BBC Films, and FilmNation Entertainment acquired Hibbert's screenplay from BBC in September 2011 for Oliver Hirschbiegel to direct.

Production did not take place as anticipated, and director Gavin Hood sent the screenplay to Xavier Marchand, president of Entertainment One. Marchand decided to develop it to produce a film with Hood directing. Entertainment One partnered with Raindog Films in April 2014 to produce Eye in the Sky with Colin Firth as one of the producers. Actors Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul joined the cast the following month. Stunt performer Fleur van Eeden was hired to be Mirren's body double despite an age difference of 39 years.

Hood, who was born in South Africa, chose to film Eye in the Sky in his home country, and filming began there in September 2014. Since the South African Civil Aviation Authority did not grant filmmakers permission to fly real drones in the country's airspace for the production, they used visual effects to display the drones.

Hood found practical locations throughout South Africa that substituted for settings in the film: an area that looked like Surrey for Mirren's character, clubs that looked located in Las Vegas, and Beaufort West which was a backdrop for the state of Nevada in the United States. Filming concluded on 4th November 2014. None of the four lead actors - Mirren, Rickman, Paul, and Abdi - met each other during production, instead filming alone with Hood due to their characters' separate locations in the film.

Mark Kilian and Paul Hepker, who scored Hood's films Tsotsi (2005) and Rendition (2007), reteamed to score Eye in the Sky.

Release

Eye in the Sky premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on 11th September 2015. The film had its United States premiere on 7th January 2016 at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Bleecker Street distributed Eye in the Sky in the United States. The film was released in New York City and Los Angeles on 11th March 2016 and gradually expanded to additional markets on the following two weekends. The film had a wider US release on 1st April.

The film was released in the United Kingdom by Entertainment One on 8th April 2016.