DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

EYE IN THE SKY (director: Gavin Hood; screenwriter: Guy Hibbert; cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos; editor: Megan Gill; music: Paul Hepker, Mark Kilian; cast: Helen Mirren (Colonel Katherine Powell), Lex King (Susan Danford / Ayesha AL-Hady), Alan Rickman (Lt. Gen. Frank Benson), Bob Chappel (Simon Powell), Aaron Paul (Steve Watts), Faisa Hassan (Fatima Mo'Allim), Barkhad Abdi (Jama Farah), Iain Glen (James Willett), Richard McCabe (George Matherson), Jeremy Northam (Brian Woodale), Phoebe Fox (Carrie Gershon), Carl Beukes (Sergeant Mike Gleeson), Kim Engelbrecht (Lucy Galvez), Armaan Haggio (Musa Mo'Allim), Aisha Takow (Alia Mo'Allim), Gavin Hood (Lt. Colonel Ed Walsh), Monica Dolan (Angela Northman); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, David Lancaster; Entertainment One Features; 2015)

"The ensemble cast is exceptional, the war thriller is highly entertaining and intelligent, and its high-tech coverage is mesmerizing."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A crisply-made modern-day drone war thriller, that ponders such things as collateral damage, the total cost of war (physical and psychological), command decisions and moral issues. It questions the politicians and the military if they are prepared to answer for their actions and if they have what it takes to do the messy job. South African-born director Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi"/"Ender's Game"/"Rendition") grippingly intertwines the drama with ticking-clock suspense and intelligent political black comedy. Writer Guy Hibbert turns in a first-rate taut screenplay, that leaves the viewer as a fly on the wall during a tense drone operation named Egret to stop the radical Islamic terrorists, Al-Shabaab, from operating out of a safe house in Nairobi, Kenya. It's a joint USA/UK/Kenyan mission managed by Great Britain. The Surrey-based Brit military intelligence officer Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is the remote commanding officer with the orders to capture a group of high-ranked dangerous Somali terrorists, two British citizens and one American, with the help of Las Vegas-based American drone pilots Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and his rookie co-pilot Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox). They will push the button to detonate the safe house. The mission escalates when it's discovered a suicide-bomb mission of a crowded public market is embarking, and the orders are quickly changed to a "kill" operation. The mission comes to a halt when a local nine-year-old girl (Aisha Takow) enters the kill zone of the safe house to sell bread, and both military and civilians must get new clearance for a kill order. They also must decide if risking the child's life to save many lives targeted is something their government will allow.

In a strategy room in London, Colonel Powell's boss, Lt. Gen. Frank Benson (Alan Rickman, died after making the film), must deal with second-guessing inferior bureaucratic politicians who look over his shoulder while the time to act for the colonel is critical and any further delays could compromise the mission. The advisers include the testy Attorney General (Richard McCabe), the interfering adamant political aide (Monica Dolan) who would incredibly rather call off the mission to save one girl's life than save many and the cowardly Minister (Jeremy Northam) who worries only about saving his own ass. From abroad contact is made with the nervous Foreign Secretary (Iain Glen) to clear-up the government's stance on collateral damage. He prefers not to make such a decision but to pass that along. On the ground, near the safe house, one of the Kenyan agents (Barkhad Abdiin, played a marauding pirate in “Captain Phillips”) does his best to rescue the girl from the danger zone while also operating tiny surveillance cameras to look inside the safe house.

The ensemble cast is exceptional, the war thriller is highly entertaining and intelligent, and its high-tech coverage is mesmerizing.

It was filmed in Hood’s homeland of South Africa.

REVIEWED ON 4/1/2016       GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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