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Eye in the Sky

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War has featured on film since the dawn of cinema, and both have been hugely influenced by the development of technology. Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky is a hugely relevant film that demonstrates much of modern warfare is to do with seeing and visualising. Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in command of a mission over Nairobi, where an airborne drone tracks several known extremists to a house where they can be eliminated with a missile. Within the blast radius, however, is a young girl selling bread, Alia Mo’Allim (Aisha Takow). Powell must persuade her superiors, including Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman, in his final onscreen role) and assembled politicians, that she fire on the terrorists’ despite the risk of civilian casualties. Thus begins a nerve-shredding debate between multiple locations, including Powell in Eastbury, Benson and the politicians in London, USAF pilots Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) piloting the drone from Nevada, Kenyan undercover agents in Nairobi including Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), and US image analysts in Hawaii, as well as additional contributions from the British Foreign Secretary James Willett (Iain Glen) in Singapore and the US Secretary of State in Beijing. The constant crosscutting between these different locations emphasises the global nature of military operations, and the sheer number of referrals and deferrals at times becomes almost absurd. Yet the film remains deadly serious in its engagement with the issues of combat. Debates about risk assessments, propaganda, political fallout and humanitarian concerns fly back and forth across tables and the world, while personal consciences are writ large across the faces of the characters. Hood, who also appears as Lt. Colonel Ed Walsh in Nevada, has repeatedly engaged with military ethics, from Rendition to X-Men Origins: Wolverine to Ender’s Game. Eye in the Sky is one of his most accomplished films, as it foregrounds the various debates but never feels staid or overly dependent on expository dialogue. The stakes are emphasised from every position, including the drone, other surveillance devices, Farah on the ground near the house and the operatives viewing on their various screens. The viewer is therefore placed into an uncomfortable proximity to the events, the film asking what we might do when faced with such decisions. Eye in the Sky offers no simplistic judgement of those involved in the decision-making, merely presents their dilemmas in gripping dramatic form. It is a tense and compelling portrayal of modern warfare, which uses its meta-cinematic conceit to engage with these discourses to great effect.

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2 Comments

  1. […] 3. Eye in the Sky (15 April 2016) […]

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