Review: Eye in the Sky

Sriya Varadharajan 3 May 2016

Ambiguity in film is not the same as ambivalence. While ‘Eye in The Sky’ is tightly-wrought and engaging enough to steer clear of becoming uninvolved, it nonetheless wraps itself in so many moral knots that it is in danger of losing a clear sense of direction.  

Gavin Hood’s ‘Eye in The Sky’ is a tense and well-made thriller which follows a variety of military and political figures during the course of a mission to capture various operatives of the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab.

The extremists are Muslims intent on wreaking havoc in order to impose their distorted form of Sharia Law – sound familiar? The twist in Hood’s war film is that the colonel (Helen Mirren) is a woman, and that there is the potential to harm a young African girl, Alia (Aisha Takow) in the strike. I was excited to see how the ambiguity of gender in the film would play out. Unfortunately, this avenue was never truly explored, with a clear vision not evident.

Artistic direction is often a problem with films about war, and can lead to action-packed, yet mechanistic, movies such as Bay’s ‘Pearl Harbour’ and pretty much all the Rocky films. Similarly, the most severe issue is the predictability of ‘Eye in The Sky’. From the very first scene, showing the young Alia playing in her parents’ yard, we are almost certain of the outcome. From the quick succession of scenes introducing characters, we are sure of the fallibility of human character. By the end of the film, we are doubly sure. 

The film is not without its insights and poignant moments. From Alan Rickman’s General’s threat that we should not “tell a soldier the cost of war”, to Mirren’s increasingly fraught temperament as the moment for the strike seemed to be inching away, ‘Eye in The Sky’ was full of arresting turns. Nonetheless, a sense that the film was attempting to outline too many moral arguments could not be escaped. Perhaps the problem is the lack of a well-sketched main character, meaning an ethical anchor-point is absent.  

However, the contradictions that the film spotlights will certainly lead to some interesting, necessary discussions. It was particularly revealing how the possibility of an aborted drone strike brought genuine annoyance to the audience, with one man exclaiming “Oh damn it! They’re too late!”