Eye in the Sky
Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky is one of the best thrillers of the year, but I doubt you’ll find another that intellectually arouses you in the ways that it so proficiently does. Here, there are no emotional payoffs, no cathartic sighs of relief, no actions completely inarguable in their being “right.” In place is a battle of egos, a battle of differing moral compasses struggling to band together in their making a decision in an unwinnable situation. Much of its suspense is procured by an overpowering sense of doom; a satisfying final resolution is nowhere in sight. What we have in its ending is not a conventional conclusion but a temporary buffer. Answers, if there are any, do not come easily.
The entirety of Eye in the Sky’s pulse-pounding 102 minutes focus on an international team’s efforts to capture a group of deadly Al-Shabaab militants after they mysteriously meet at a safehouse in Kenya. Because a handful of those involved are monumentally high on the Most Wanted lists of several nations, promised is that all efforts will be put forth toward captivity rather than termination. In light of a recent massacring of civilians at the hands of the Al-Shabaab, it’s crucial that justice be served, for its perpetrators to be made to bask in the shame of the crimes they’ve committed against humanity.
But a mission that would otherwise be fairly routine is given new perspective when it’s discovered that the meeting taking place is far more life-threatening than an exchange of conversational depravity. In store, it seems, is a suicide bombing mission. To Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), the grizzled colonel leading the surveillance team, the strategy is simple: change the outcome from “capture” to “kill.” When comparing calculations regarding the potential loss of civilian life, the number from the planned terrorist attack is far greater than a drone strike could ever be.
But higher-ups are unconvinced that matters are so black and white. Before a decision can be made, though, circumstances are further complicated by a preteen girl (Aisha Takow) who sets up a makeshift food stand directly in front of the compound in question. With legalities and consideration of public perception steadily growing more and more tangled as conditions build in their urgency, the chances of a quick and painless settlement rapidly decrease.
An optimistic ending is plainly not in the makeup of a film that deals with a major fictional event in trying military surveillance, but Eye in the Sky’s plainspoken uneasiness is among the attributes that makes it such a fantastically tense thriller. Our protagonists are not so much morally sound heroes as they are ruthless people able to make a tough call when the occasion arises, able to move on with their lives only because defeating an evil, even if that said evil is dealt with in an ethically questionable manner, is better than doing nothing at all.
Though most of the action is set behind computer screens and closed doors, the film is remarkably frantic despite its being so literally confined — it’s akin to a chase movie, with a designated cat and a designated mouse dipping in and out of one another’s line of sight as next moves are methodically plotted. This is likely the result of Hood’s deft balance between voyeuristic footage and in-the-moment dramatic bulkiness; we consistently see the situation from multiple points of view, from the emotionless lenses of security cameras to the country-spanning government officials duking it out for the sake of deciding whether they should or shouldn’t approve the pressing of a loaded button. There is no correct path to travel down — this is a film meant to incite conversation, to incite discussions of if the presence of that ever-important preteen girl is enough to elicit hesitation, even if risking her life could mean saving that of an unspeakable number of others.
When its ending arrives, however, we come to realize that Eye in the Sky isn’t made to be a one-note thrill ride to be forgotten after bullets of sweat are properly shed, after behinds are slowly scooted to the edges of an uncomfortable theater seat. It’s a thought-provoker meant to haunt its viewers, to cause audiences to really think about what they’re watching and take in what they’ve just witnessed. And that’s scary. A-