Year Released: 2016
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Starring: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman
(R, 102 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense, Drama
“Don’t ever tell a soldier he doesn’t know the cost of war.” General Frank Benson
This thriller rivets you to your seat, even without screeching car chases, sexy spies, breathless action, or maudlin backstories. It goes deep and not wide, exploring all the implications of a single penetrating act.
What starts out as a top-secret drone-assisted capture of high-level terrorists in Kenya suddenly goes off the rails when they move into hostile territory, making capture impossible.
Then ground intel, in the form of an ingenious flying beetle drone, reveals a chilling twist. The group, which includes a new American recruit, is planning a suicide bombing. In the frantic minutes that follow, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), must convince an almost infinite number of higher ups that a kill mission is now the only viable option.
The film explores all the “moral, political and personal implications.”
If the matter were not so grim, one might almost find the artful dodging of responsibility by the various British officials to be humorous. Not one civilian wants to make the decision to take out the terrorists with a hell fire missile if there is collateral damage.
The logic that a potential suicide bombing at a mall, for instance, would dwarf any loss of life from the missile fails to convince the craven and calculating politicians. While a female member of parliament wrings her hands and wraps herself in self-righteousness, a colleague is almost Machiavellian in his logic, throwing away scores of people for precious public opinion.
If they kill 80 people, we win the propaganda war. If we kill one child, they do.
The American political counterparts seem to have fewer compunctions; it is their young military officers actually arming and firing the drones who have doubts.
It seems counter intuitive that such discussions would be riveting, but they are. In fact, by abandoning so much of what we have come to expect in thrillers, the taut and spare film is actually more effective.
Too many recent thrillers seem tailor-made for an attention deficit disordered audience, flitting from one exotic locale to another, risking viewer whiplash as plots ricochet from one far-fetched direction to the next – all at a frenetic pace to disallow logical reflection or the lack thereof.
Indeed, it is because Eye in the Sky does not rely on that handy little bag of thriller tricks that it is so good.
Instead of fast paced action, this film slows everything down. The time frame is less than 24 hours, more like from sunrise to sunset. We open with a predawn phone call to Colonel Powell and end with her going home after a long day deciding the future of at least a small corner of the real world. Literally, every minute counts, and that immediacy keeps us very involved. We are perhaps reminded that those ancient Greeks knew a thing or two in their dramatic concept of the unities, one of which was that all should occur within the course of a day. Today the trend is to befuddle us with flash backs or speed along at such a pace that the film itself becomes a sort of time machine.
The same goes for the Greek concept of action, which should be single. Today, our plots are so weighed down by intersecting subplots, some of which we cannot untangle until the end of the film, that our heads spin.
Eye in the Sky focuses on a single mission, whether or not to launch a preemptive strike against a group of terrorists about to initiate a suicide mission.
While the film does not actually occur in a single place, as the Greeks would have it, the actual events that occur are all in the shabby outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. The armed drone that hovers above is linked to a underground command center in Sussex, another government building, all polished mahogany and brass in London, and a third drone control center in Nevada. We also hear in from various diplomats in Beijing and Singapore, but these are all but spokes in the wheel. The hub in Nairobi is foremost.
The film does not just abandon the customary thriller’s exotic locales and glamor; it annihilates them. The little patch of Nairobi is just a few degrees above a squalid slum, with just enough of a pathetic pretense of suburbia to rob it of the locale color a real slum would have.
The command stations in Sussex and Nevada are basically underground bunkers without natural air of light. Prison rec rooms would be more appealing.
And the filmmakers also refuse to engage in any sentimental claptrap backstories of its leads. We know Colonel Powell is married from the inert body in bed next to her when she gets her 3 am phone call, but that is all.
Likewise our sorely missed Alan Rickman (1946 – 2016), who plays General Frank Benson, has a young daughter (or granddaughter) since we first see him shopping for a doll, but that is all we learn. Of course, this reference makes his choice to risk the life of the little Kenyan girl somewhat more personal, but the filmmakers wisely let the audience make that link on their own.
It’s time to abandon your addictive happy meal thrillers for this fillet mignon one. Simple, taut, and spare, it is a knife to your heart, just the same.
One of the many unanticipated events in this high tech military operation comes in the form of a little Kenyan girl. It’s almost love at first sight as we see her twirl her father’s hand made hula hoop in the dust patch of her yard. She does so with a grace and joy that recalls exactly how I felt doing the same thing a very, very long time ago.
The little girl also sells her mother’s freshly baked loaves of bread around the corner, which just happens to be right next to the meeting house for several high level terrorists.
If only she can sell the loaves and get out of there before the hellfire missile arrives. Here is a recipe for some Ethiopian Injera Bread. which is delicious.
Now, to wash it down, we have the classic Kenyan Cocktail.
Kenyan Dawa Cocktail
Dawa is and will always be a classic Kenyan cocktail. It comprises of a mixture of vodka, lime juice and honey garnished with a lime wheel and a ‘Dawa Stick’ to stir the honey. Commonly referred to as Dawa, which is derived from the Swahili word meaning “Medicine”, it makes for a refreshing cocktail that will cure whatever ails you.
Whether you are after a delicious sun downer, a refreshing drink on a hot afternoon, a drink after a tiring day, or a social drink, Dawa is the cocktail to drink. The simplicity of the ingredients in Dawa is surely going to make you feel better.
2 oz vodka (We used Smirnoff Red)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp tsp brown sugar 1 lime, quartered then cut into chunks, plus lime wheel garnish Ice
1 lime, cut into chunks, plus lime wheel garnish
Into a rocks glass place lime chunks, honey and sugar.
Muddle just enough to release the lime juice and mix with the honey and sugar, but not so much as to mash the pith (that will release a bitter flavour).
Add some crushed ice, then the vodka and stir to combine ingredients and bring up the lime from the bottom of the glass. Add more ice until the glass is full, then garnish with a lime wheel.
Serve and enjoy