As I left the cinema following an opening-day screening of Eye in the Sky, the atmosphere of hushed thoughtfulness said it all. Eye in the Sky is masterfully executed, with fantastic performances from the entire cast and powerful cinematography that captures current concerns about modern warfare, surveillance and morality.
“This is a film that feels… like an elaborate piece of virtual reality gaming, but is also startlingly real.”
The film’s premise is a simple one when taken at face value – an exploration of the morality of remote surveillance and drone warfare – but Guy Hibbert’s sophisticated screenplay soon makes it clear that there is far more to consider than just the military and the moral. This is a film that feels on the one hand like an elaborate piece of virtual reality gaming, but is also startlingly real. While swept up in the heart-pounding suspense of it all, the emphasis on showing everyday lives in contrast to the military storyline reminds you that this is the kind of warfare going on in the real world, affecting real lives in the same way. Politicians are on state visits (and the Foreign Secretary has food poisoning), villagers in Kenya are working in markets, and Alan Rickman’s character humorously attempts to buy a doll for his daughter – all against a backdrop of imminent conflict.
Tension is, predictably, the main theme of the film, and it is executed very effectively. The film is peppered with real-time, drawn out scenes of surveillance shot from the point of view of the drone, giving a realism that is both intriguing and sickening as we watch a terrorist plot unfolding in real time. Every scene is intimate, whether watching a meeting from a camera in the ceiling of a Kenyan house or a close-up of Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) contemplating the reality of his task from his desk in Vegas. Intimate, yet extensive – the contrast is startling.
The overwhelming theme of this film is one of juxtaposition – of the military and the political; the moral and the practical; the childish and the adult. A particularly poignant moment comes when a child sees Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) operating a drone from his phone and asks if it is a game, highlighting the innocence of the child against the reality of warfare. These contrasts show just how complicated the dilemma of the film is and make the moral questions even harder to answer. I found myself changing my opinion several times throughout the film as different ideas were emphasized, and I left the cinema still unsure of where I stood. The ending is ultimately rather impartial, leaving the viewer to decide which side of the argument they agree with – a clever decision which does not detract from any of the nuances of the film.
“I left the cinema still unsure of where I stood.”
Eye in the Sky is the gripping, hard-hitting thriller that we need to counter the slew of superheroes and rom-coms. It is both simple and complex, fantastical and realistic, raising real and relevant questions about the direction of modern warfare. Sophisticated writing is bolstered by enthralling cinematography and a brilliant cast, combining to create one of the best thrillers in recent years. If you have even a fleeting interest in the military, technology or politics, you should definitely see it. You will leave the cinema with plenty to think about.