South African director Gavin Hood’s simmering military thriller Eye in the Sky is sporadically dull, more frequently exciting and ultimately invaluable. The big names, Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman, deliver their goods: unselfconscious power and bilious melancholy, respectively.
Yet the movie belongs to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips). Abdi plays the point man Jama, who keeps surveillance on a heavily guarded compound in the outskirts of Nairobi. This spy has a most fearful job: piloting an insect-size drone camera while pretending to be a peddler at an open-air bazaar.
Inside a tin-roofed house a few hundred yards away from the market there is a meeting of members of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. Two attendees are on the U.S. and British military’s most wanted list: one is an American citizen; the other, an English national. Operation Egret was meant to record their capture by military authorities. Then intelligence reveals that the fanatics are making their farewell videos, and donning suicide vests.
What’s described as a “kill chain” begins. In London’s Whitehall, Rickman’s Lt. General Benson persuades high-ranking yet timid government officials to consent to the execution of a citizen. In her own headquarters miles away, Mirren’s Col. Powell considers the metrics of the potential blast.
What stalls the drone-mounted Hellfire missile is the presence of a potential collateral victim, a little red-robed girl sitting by the wall of the targeted home, selling loaves of bread.
There is no ingeniously correct action that prevents the killing of bystanders. In his last bit of screen acting, Rickman has the final word—a memorable parting shot about the wrongness of telling a soldier that he hasn’t seen the cost of war. The argument one can’t accept—even after seeing the brimming eyes of actors playing the soldiers who pull the trigger—is that their tears have an equal value to the blood of innocents.
‘Eye in the Sky’ is playing in wide release in the North Bay.