Monday, 18 April 2016

Review: Eye in the Sky





Eye in the Sky
Cert: 15 / 102 mins / Dir. Gavin Hood / Trailer



Okay, quick word of advice for you. Don't go and see this as "Alan Rickman's Last Film", even if that is the promotional blackmail buzz surrounding Eye In The Sky, Gavin Hood's post-911 moral thriller. Don't get me wrong, he's good in this (he's Alan Rickman), but his role itself is very limited and consists mostly of being Alan Rickman In A Chair™. Plus, he's got some voice-work in the upcoming Alice Through The Looking Glass. Just thought it best to clear that up now.

So, Eye in the Sky is a military/political thriller centered around drone-warfare; specifically, the aspect involving collateral damage (ie civilian deaths) in targeted strikes. When a British intelligence unit locate three known terrorists and two soon-to-be suicide-bombers in a house in Nairobi, a pre-approved tactical hit is thrown into disarray when it appears that a young girl will be caught within the damage-radius. Can the joint forces of the UK and US military find the legal and moral justification to strike, knowing that if they miss the opportunity, many more civilians could die as a result?

And that's the film, basically. A little bit of set-up followed by a slew of characters reiterating the question for an hour and a half. Which is where it comes unstuck a little, I'm afraid. With the best will in the world, Eye In The Sky has all the intellectual subtlety of a sixth-form essay entitled "Why war is bad". That said, the screenplay holds up both sides of the argument convincingly enough, but not to the point where it picks a stance itself, and not to the point where anyone in the audience is going to change their outlook as a result of having watched it (I could feel the division in tonights audience, with half reacting audibly to some moments and staying silent at others, and vice-versa).

Rickman, as hinted at above, is perfectly acceptable, but other than a pointed monologue at the end of the film is basically a jobbing actor here. The same goes for Helen Mirren, doing what she does well, but nothing new. Scattered across conference rooms and command centres around the world, the supporting cast fare well, although the script feels at times like it's not going anywhere (which is very much the point, but still).

Then any actual sense of ambiguity the film does manages to build up is more or less wiped clean by the placement of 'finger-on-the-trigger', Aaron Paul; essentially a potato on a stick with a sad face and a single tear drawn on in marker pen. He's the brightly coloured subtitle saying "But… but this might be WRONG!". Y'know, just in case the audience hadn't been listening to the actors reciting the script and had already worked out what was going on. Seated directly next to him is Phoebe Fox in much the same role, but she manages to carry it off more convincingly (if no less annoyingly)*1.

Deliberately confrontational, deliberately contrary and at times deliberately mawkish Eye In The Sky is like one of those heated philosophical arguments in a pub: Overly earnest, thoroughly circular and without any firm conclusion.
But you will have an opinion. And you will believe yours is right.

Well played, Mr Hood. Well played...



[ UPDATE (18 Apr)*2 ] It's also worth pointing out that we, the audience, see a broad overview of the home-life of Alia, the little girl that the story revolves around before we meet any of the film's other characters. Being raised in a hardline Muslim area but by progressive parents, Alia is educated at home (which she relishes), away from the disapproving eyes of many of the locals (we're shown this). Her father runs a bicycle-repair business while her mother bakes loaves of bread which the girl goes out to sell throughout the day. Even at her young age, she works as part of the family unit and spends her free-time playing in the back yard as children are wont to do - again, out of the sight of 'traditionalists', as we're also shown. Now normally this depiction would be a bit of simple character-building to give the central dilemma a bit of weight. But bear in mind that none of the military or governmental characters involved in the story know any of this.

The film clearly paints the family to be "The Good Ones Rather Than The Bad Ones", a streak of simplistic emotional blackmail which is so unnecessary that it's insulting to the audience, as if everyone in the cinema automatically assumes that 'all the brown people must either be bigots, terrorists or sympathisers until proven otherwise'. If the writers were as convinced of the sanctity of civilian lives as they'd like to appear, then a little girl selling bread by the roadside would be enough, surely? Having slept on the movie, this has bothered me far more than the actual premise of the film.

It hasn't changed my opinion of the movie, quite the opposite, which again mirrors the problem Eye In The Sky faces from a 'hypothetical' point-of-view: it's just annoyed me into agreeing with what I already believed. [/UPDATE]



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
It's at empathetically ambivalent as Zero Dark Thirty, although it's slightly less nihilistic.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
To be honest, you wouldn't lose anything by watching this at home on a Sunday night. Although it looks very cinematic, the story itself is very televisual.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It certainly does.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Cast? Probably not.
Director? Well, this is the man who brought us Ender's Game and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, so you can decide that for yourself
.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Nope.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars Alan Rickman, of course, who played Ronald Reagan in The Butler*3 along with Forest 'from off of Star Wars Rogue One' Whitaker and David 'Agent Kallus' Oyelowo.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Erm, yeah. In case you were still wondering, I freely admit to being in the half of the audience who wanted to punch Aaron Paul's character in the mouth and bellow "Are you going to fucking cry every time you're asked to do your job? Pull the trigger or pull a sickie; we don't have time for this bullshit. NO WONDER WE'RE LOSING, YOU BELLEND!". I say this as an unashamed wooly-liberal, and the fact that his simpering, vocationally-unrealistic performance brought me to that point only underlines that this is indeed a well-constructed film, if an incredibly manipulative one (I'm not normally a 'shouting at the telly' kind of person).

*2 Yeah, I've been doing this quite a bit, recently. Updating posts the next day, I mean. On one hand it tells me that I should probably leave a bit more time between watching a movie and expounding about it online. But on the other I know that if I wait until the next day then I'd have forgotten all the minor niggles which I enjoy complaining about so much. I just want to get the detail down while it's fresh, y'know? I mean really, most films are "alright", but that's no basis for a blog, is it?

3 No, it's called "The Butler", mate. Just "The Butler". In the story, director Lee Daniels isn't a character who employs the eponymous servant, so it's just called "The Butler". In the same way that Phoenix Nights is called "Phoenix Nights". Putting your own name as part of the title is egocentric at very best, and until the day that Lee Daniels (or "Lee Daniels' Lee Daniels" as I believe he likes to be known) comes knocking on my door with an apology and an explanation, that's the way it's fucking well staying, capische?



DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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