Friday, November 11, 2016
The tensest moments in Eye in the Sky aren't spent wondering whether a drone-launched missile will arrive before the suicide bombers leave on their mission. They're spent watching a little girl try to sell bread on a street corner. Instead of percussive gun battles, you hear military brass and far-flung functionaries engage in bloodless debate about acceptable percentages of collateral damage. But out of these potentially yawn-inducing scenes comes a restrained military thriller that hangs together just well enough.
From a conference table surrounded by politicians and bureaucrats, English Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) monitors a mission to capture some high-profile terrorists in Nairobi, Kenya. Elsewhere, English Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is coordinating the pursuit, aided by an international network that includes drone pilots in the United States, communication experts in England, and both military and undercover agents on the ground in Nairobi. A drone-mounted "eye in the sky" and even an insect-like minicamera are snooping on the bad guys.
But things, as you expect, go awry. The mission to capture becomes a mission to kill when the terrorists settle down in a location where they can't be reached. And just when the drone pilot's trigger finger is poised to unleash a killer missile ... that little girl shows up.
Eye in the Sky is not your typical hyper-ventilating thriller that's constructed to show off cutting-edge electronic surveillance. There is more talking than explosions. The restrained tone of the action necessarily matches the restrained pace with which the key decision of the movie must be made. But it still moves along crisply due to the workmanlike performances by Mirren and Rickman. Mirren in particular is compelling as the military commander who is in a box but pushes relentlessly against all the sides to do her duty.
Though Eye in the Sky isn't spectacular, it is worth a watch because it isn't your typical, predictable military thriller. You'll appreciate it if you're willing to take it on its own terms, where you spend time wondering what decision you'd make rather than seeing yourself in the video-game version of the action.