“The film valiantly deals with difficult and controversial questions.”

by Rachel Wilford

Because it was given limited release in the United States, I fear that Eye in the Sky will not reach the audience that it so deserves. This film literally kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation and had me curled up, my head on my knees and my hands over my mouth, during the jarring final scenes.

This British thriller stars Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell, a military intelligence officer in Great Britain who has finally found the group of terrorists that she has been tracking for six years hiding in a safehouse in Nairobi, Kenya. Originally planning only to capture the terrorists, Powell discovers through drone intelligence that this group is about to carry out a suicide attack that could endanger the lives of many villagers. Lieutenant Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), a United States Air Force drone pilot, is given orders to strike the terrorist group in order to minimize casualties. However, just before he is about to destroy the safehouse, a young girl enters the kill zone and begins selling bread to the villagers. Powell, Watts, and other officials then have to decide whether it is legally, militarily, and morally acceptable for them to still strike the safehouse, knowing that the little girl will most likely be killed if they do.

Eye in the Sky sheds light on many current military controversies. Does the use of drones dehumanize the act of killing because the people controlling them are too far away from the actual situation, or do those who are behind the machines make their decisions just as responsibly as they would if they were fighting on the ground? Should critical military decisions be made by one person or by a council of many? Should those in charge be allowed to bend the rules during times of crisis for the sake of the greater good? Who has the right to decide which life is more important than another? These questions are posed throughout the film and they linger, hauntingly.

Eye in the Sky
Directed by
Gavin Hood
Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman
Release Date
11 March 2016
Rachel’s Grade: A

The setting of the film switches around from Great Britain, Nevada, Pearl Harbor, and Kenya. Each conversation between operatives is cumbersome, every angle and possibility picked apart before any decision is made. The film portrays just how difficult it is to make any military decision and demonstrates how many people must give opinions, insight, and consent before any move can be made. The process is frustrating and exhausting, but the audience fully understands the gravity of the situation and the importance of each choice just as the characters do.

The level of suspense in the film is nearly panic inducing, and at several instances I found myself struggling to stay contained. There were many scenes that, if the film had been made poorly, could have been very dull, such as during conversations about what to do or who to consult. But the film does an exceptional job at creating a sense of urgency and an immense amount of suspense in nearly every scene. I could not help but fidget anxiously in my seat basically from start to finish.

The acting in this film is also outstanding. Helen Mirren gives a fabulous performance, exuding grace and poise throughout, no matter the level of tension and stress. Aaron Paul gives a gut-wrenchingly emotional portrayal of how heavily a decision can impact those involved, and I could not help but cry with him during the film’s closing scenes. The late and beloved Alan Rickman also appears regularly throughout the film, and it is both enchanting to watch his undeniable talent and saddening to know that this is the last film the world will see him in.

The film valiantly deals with difficult and controversial questions. Is it acceptable to discard one life for the sake of many lives? Is it okay to do terrible things in order to prevent future terrible tragedies? How much weight does one life carry in the face of time-sensitive, radical threats? Eye in the Sky does not necessarily answer these questions, but it doesn’t have to. The film suggests that maybe there are no right answers and instead, there are only difficult decisions, and each decision has a cost.

This chilling film addresses important issues surrounding what it means to grasp onto humanity during situations in which humans are trained to ignore it. Eye in the Sky will compel you to consider what you would do if you were faced with the same set of burdensome choices.