A top secret drone operation over Kenya has identified the hideout of a high profile terrorist leader and two other most-wanted fanatics. A capture, not kill, order is issued but there is more afoot in the hideout and Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) must get higher approval to take out the terrorists, especially when a young girl selling bread sets up her stall inside the kill zone in “Eye in the Sky.”
Director Gavin Hood and screenwriter Guy Hibbert have their hearts in the right place in this modern morality play set amidst the ongoing war on terror with its high tech surveillance drones seeing every detail of the terrorist targets and their bomb plotting. The urgency that builds as the plan to capture goes awry and becomes, at the fervent demands of Colonel Powell, a kill mission.
At this point, early in the film, we meet little Alia (Aisha Takow) and her doting parents who, against Islamic law, allow the girl to play with her hula hoop and learn to read and write. Every day, Alia takes the bread her mother bakes and sells it in the street – right next to the terrorist hideout. This is where “Eye in the Sky” changes its focus from the bad guys, relegating them to the background, and closes in on Alia.
The morality play kicks in as various members of the military and high ranking government officials question the right or wrong of endangering civilians, here in the guise of Alia, to take out terrorist bad guys. There is an absurdist quality to the story as the decision to strike goes up and down the political ladder as the buck is, almost comically, passed – no one who actually make the decision want to make it. Lots of closed door politics give this part of the story the feel of a drawing room comedy. This is punctuated with British General Benson (the late Alan Rickman) trying to get a doll for his daughter’s Christmas present, making me scratch my head in wonder.
There are a lot of good actors doing their best with a story that hits you over the head with the moral issue centered on little Alia. The suspense over the danger to the girl is laid out very early on, telegraphing the plot’s intent over and over. At about the 30 minute mark I had the whole thing figured out and just waited for the inevitable ending, taking the suspense out of the suspense thriller. I give it a C+.
Gavin Hood's take on drone warfare gives us a bit more to chew on than last year's "Good Kill," but, like that film, he tips his hand rather early on the target of his suspense. Still, "Eye in the Sky" does a good job of outlining how people in separate, enclosed spaces around the world can determine the fate of someone thousands of miles away. It's a treat to see Barkhad Abdi, Oscar nominated for "Captain Phillips," as a Nairobi operative who physically gets into the danger zone. B-
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