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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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‘Eye in the Sky’ review: Thriller depicts drone warfare fairly

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Photo by By Jacob Martindale
Eye in the Sky

Modern warfare is complicated. As political as it is strategic, words and decisions have replaced guns and bullets — in an atmosphere where political correctness is sacred, every consequence must be measured. And although “Eye in the Sky” presents a competent and compelling depiction of drone warfare, it’s partially tainted by its repetition.

To put it bluntly, “Eye in the Sky” is a mouthful. Directed by Gavin Hood, the political war thriller focuses its time asking provocative questions and belaboring over their answers. What is the cost of one civilian casualty blown out onto headlines? When is the right time to pull the trigger if the target is always in sight? The film’s dialogue gets downright dialectic at times, but it serves a point: modern military decisions are as bureaucratic as any other government entity. It’s a good thing the actors behind those conversations are riveting.

Helen Mirren displays fantastic work as Col. Katherine Powell, a no-nonsense colonel who rides the razor-thin line between authoritarian and empathetic. The film follows her as she leads a secret drone mission to capture a group of wanted terrorists. But when the group begins planning a suicide attack and the rules of engagement change from capture to kill, Powell must come to terms with the correct course of action. To do so, Powell and her team — which includes Aaron Paul as drone pilot Steve Watts — must “refer up.”

This is the film’s central movement. “Eye in the Sky” tracks Powell as she seeks her superior’s permission, who then needs to seek their superior’s permission, and so on. Performances such as Mirren’s and Alan Rickman’s — who is surprisingly funny as the straight-faced, nearly droll Lt. Gen. Frank Benson — certainly carry the film forward, but eventually the rhetorical back-and-forth grows stale. I know there is a point to be made, and at times the pacing itself seems a comment on the tedium of war, but its repetitive nature will turn off some viewers.

That said, the film does a lot right. I’ve already touched on the performances, but the cinematography also bears mentioning. The camera’s tendency to spotlight scenes from above imposes a dehumanizing effect, as though the audience — and by extension, the military — are gods toying with mere men. And at a timely 102 minutes, there isn’t much to fault. 

“Eye in the Sky” is leagues better than the usual popcorn political-thriller fare. With complex, weighted performances from all of its key characters and a self-aware script, the film takes a complicated subject and asks all the important questions — without overhanded conclusivity. The result is a tight, competent thriller that respects its audience, and that itself is worth the price of admission.

Mason Morgan is an English senior and opinion editor for The Battalion.

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