‘Eye in the Sky’ Movie Review: A First-Rate Thriller

Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky
Helen Mirren stars in ‘Eye in the Sky’

“We’ve got two suicide bombers inside that house and no one wants to take responsibility for pulling the trigger,” says Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) as she struggles to get clearance from her superiors to take out a terrorist cell in the political thriller, Eye in the Sky.

Taking place internationally and involving many different people around the globe, Eye in the Sky focuses on Col. Powell, a U.K. based military officer in command of a top secret operation hunting terrorist cells in Kenya. She’s received intelligence that three of the top five most wanted in the United States are going to have a meeting at a safe house. Using drone surveillance, Powell communicates with American pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) who’s based in Las Vegas piloting the drone. Col. Powell also activates a local spy named James Farrah (Barkhad Abdi) to infiltrate hostile-guarded territory to get close enough to send a small drone into the safe house to get confirmation the terrorists are inside in order to greenlight the raid and capture.

However, the footage from the small drone shows not only the three terrorists are inside but have suicide bombs and vests indicating they’re planning an eminent attack which escalates the simple capture mission to a kill mission. Thus begins the work and struggle involving the highest levels of both the United States and British governments legally greenlighting a kill order on the house. Just when it seems almost everyone is on board and pilot Watts is about to engage the weapons on the drone, a local nine year old girl enters the collateral damage area of the strike zone selling her bread to some of the locals. This further delays the strike as both the British and American politicians and military officers argue the moral and political ramifications of the strike killing the young child while the terrorist cell is getting ready to leave their house with their bombs.

Gripping, suspenseful and featuring dynamic performances, Eye in the Sky is an extremely effective and intelligent political war thriller that demonstrates rather than lectures about how war is handled in today’s world. Helen Mirren delivers yet another stellar performance as Col. Powell who’s so determined to capture or kill these terrorists (one in particular she has been hunting for the last six years) that she becomes hellbent on greenlighting the strike no matter what the collateral damage may be and begins to encourage and bully her personnel to fudge their data on just how bad the explosion will be for the young girl and others nearby.

Aaron Paul delivers a strong performance as Steve Watts, the American pilot who is flying the drone and who will be the one to shoot the missile into the terrorist safe house and kill those inside as well as those in the kill zone. Paul displays wonderfully the stress and stomach-turning emotions his character feels when his job goes from a simple observe and report mission to a kill strike, and the horror of possibly having to murder an innocent young girl to ensure the death of three deadly terrorists.

The late Alan Rickman is nothing less than superb as Lt. Col. Frank Benson, Powell’s boss who has to deal firsthand with the British politicians on getting them to agree and take legal responsibility to greenlight a terrorist hit. He conveys a career military man who has seen and done it all and yet the struggle and carnage of war still affects him deeply. His second to last scene where he politely puts a political bureaucrat in her place on how to deal with soldiers and military officers is cinematic gold.

The pacing, camera work, and directing is tight and the set design is sound, bringing to the screen a sense of real authenticity. Especially effective are the shots from the drone’s point of view. The only weakness in the film lies in the writing at times seeming a bit heavy-handed and contrived, with some of the events and stalls leading up to the Catch 22 the British and Americans find themselves in.

With above average performances from a great cast and solid directing, Eye in the Sky is a smart, compelling political war thriller that leaves most of the moral and ethical questions for the audience to debate about and decide on.


MPAA Rating: R for some violent images and language

Running Time: 102 minutes

Directed By: Gavin Hood