Eye In The Sky takes a look at modern warfare, and the decisions its combatants must face, even when they're not in the line of fire. Those making the life-or-death decisions, though, far away from the site of their attack. Helen Mirren stars as Catherine Powell, a British colonel who has been trying to track some Al-Shabaab terrorists for years. Colonel Powell has received information that these terrorists have been spotted in Kenya. She reports this to her superior, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman). He convenes a meeting of senior British government officials in London to let them know the situation. Powell's objective is to capture the terrorists, as the Americans want to capture them alive. The British also have allies in Kenya, including Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), who operates in plainclothes. Posing as a bazaar vendor, Farah uses a surveillance tool that not only confirms the terrorists are not only there, but they have also recruited two young men to carry out suicide missions.
The British forces, therefore, need permission from both the US and UK to change the mission from capture to kill. As the military goes through protocols, a team of US drone pilots in Nevada, including Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), who's tasked to deliver the deadly payload, prepares to carry out the strike. They confirm Farah's observation that the group has arrived there. As the British get their clearance, Watts notices that a young bread seller name Alia (Aisha Takow) has set up a booth outside the terrorist safe house. Before he strikes and risks any sort of outcry, he wants all effort to be made to get her safely away from the place. Complications arise when Al-Shabaab allies recognize Farah, who eludes them as he attempts to purchase all of the bread from Alia. Powell's team, meanwhile, formulates a strategy to minimize the risk of injury or fatality for the young girl.
Eye In The Sky is an interesting, though somewhat dry and predictable, look at modern warfare, where the princials find themselves nowhere near Kenya. Nothing of consequence occurs until the film's climax, when the military clears every hurdle to complete the mission. Much of the debate occurs in Benson's office, as the officials in the room give their views on the strike and their concerns about civilian casualties. The script from Guy Hibbert has some tension as the soldiers debate the right moment to strike. The story is also neatly bookended, as Powell, Benson, and Watts are seen from the beginning of their day to the end. Director Gavin Hood lets the movie move a little too slowly before reaching the inevitable conclusion, but the emotions and actions of the day ring true.
The three main players give solid performances, and never share a moment of screen time together. Mirren wakes to discover a chance of getting some of the world's most notorious terrorists, but finds frustration as she has to jump through numerous bureaucratic and military hoops before completing the mission. Yet she understands, for she knows the cost of even the slightest miscalculation. Paul, as Watts, controls the weapons, with only Airman Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) in the room with him for assistance. It is Watts who calls for calls for a reconfirmation before he makes any launch. Eye In The Sky marks the final onscreen role for Rickman (his final acting role comes in Alice Through The Looking Glass in a voice part). As Benson, he has to listen to the back and forth about authority and culpability before giving the green light to Powell. One of Benson's final lines is delivered sternly to a government official who never stood in agreement with the strike, but shows how the day's events have affected him. Abdi has a fine supporting performance as Farah, who has to often think quickly in the field and act with discretion. In one scene, a Kenyan boy takes Farah's remote control for a video game, so he offers the young man a chance to earn money by hawking his cover wares. Hood himself has a small role as Watts's superior on the drone mission.
Modern weaponry may have eliminated some need for boots on the ground, but Eye In The Sky shows a human side to any kind of a lethal engagement. When wanted terrorists arrive in Kenya intent on destruction, forces seeking their capture must make sure the actions they take will not draw criticism from their allies throughout the world. The world, in certain ways, has grown closer and more connected than ever. A video eye can give a perspective a human eye cannot see, but it is incapable of displaying the emotion of the human eye. Soldiers in such conflicts can go home without a scratch, but they don't necessarily go home unscathed. They still have to prepare for battle the next day, if the need arises.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Eye In The Sky three stars. War is hell - even from a distance.