Eye in the Sky

Review by Clarisse Loughrey @clarisselou

Directed by

Gavin Hood

Starring

Aaron Paul Alan Rickman Helen Mirren

Anticipation.

To drone or not to drone, that is the question.

Enjoyment.

A basic conundrum; yet it’s smart, tense, and surprisingly pointed.

In Retrospect.

A last reminder of what made Alan Rickman such a gift to cinema.

Alan Rickman’s final screen outing is a textbook exercise in bringing modern warfare to the big screen.

“Never tell a soldier the cost of war.” These are the parting words from Alan Rickman’s Lieutenant General Frank Benson in Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky. It’s a role that was to become the actor’s last. It’s “cost” we think of now, as we grieve his death. The kind of cost we face when, to become immortalised on the big screen, we must face our own impermanence.

Movies create two selves: one human, one untouchable. Sometimes you have to allow the former to fade so the latter may thrive. In this last sight of him, we see those two selves part ways; leaving behind one who walks, talks and smiles for an eternity.

Though Eye in the Sky might be considered an unremarkable fragment of his screen legacy, Rickman comes across here as his own essence, like the final refinement of all those qualities which inhabit his celluloid self. It’s an exploration into the weight of responsibility in times of war, and it’s a burden that rests so visibly upon Rickman’s shoulders.

Here, his mediator Benson sits wedged in between Helen Mirren’s forceful military Colonel and a board of governmental authorities tasked with the ultimate decision: whether or not to order the drone hovering above an East Kenyan house to drop its payload on a gathering of East Africa’s most wanted, even though it would spell death for the young girl in the yard next door, her candy-striped hula hoop spinning gracefully around her as she plays.

This is warfare reduced to one basic dilemma: do you kill an innocent to save the lives of countless others? Or do you wait patiently for the right moment to reveal itself? As the stakes become clearer, the tension slowly cranks and the sweat pours, as politicians stuffed away in a London cabinet room play hot potato with the onus of responsibility. War will always spill the blood of the innocent, but it’s the blood on your own hands that plagues sleepless nights.

Yet, Benson’s face speaks its own kind of truth. What elevates Eye in the Sky above the tortuous pitfalls of moral didactics sits within the expression that washes over his face as he watches those politicians rally responsibility around the room as if it were a panicked game of badminton. His furrowed brow and heavy sighs betray his weariness, his frustration. But also a small, wry look of quiet bemusement. It feels like only Rickman could meld those wildly opposing sentiments into a single expression, only he could hold such delicate appreciation that absurdity is never too far behind tragedy. Sometimes, even, he seems as if he watches the world from a step back, witnessing and revelling in all its glorious contradictions.

Eye in the Sky is a textbook narrative exercise. So textbook, in fact, that the old gem of an Aeschylus quote opens the film: “In war, truth is the first casualty”. It’s the kind of overwrought wisdom that now usually graces the loading screens of video games. Yet, as Rickman’s droll smirks unroll on screen, we start to see a film slowly revealing its hidden knowledge of those strange mechanics of existence.

Published 15 Apr 2016

Anticipation.

To drone or not to drone, that is the question.

Enjoyment.

A basic conundrum; yet it’s smart, tense, and surprisingly pointed.

In Retrospect.

A last reminder of what made Alan Rickman such a gift to cinema.

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