In Eye in the Sky, we are asked to consider the moral choices that lead Western powers to blow the bejesus out of Islamic terrorists using unmanned planes, or drones. In a twist that allows Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman to appear in original English flavour, the drone attack here is a British-led one. The hardware is however all American, and is ‘piloted’ by Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman) from a storage unit in the Nevada desert.
Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) has been chasing a very bad man for many years and now she, via the drone, finally has her white whale in the cross hairs. He’s killed hundreds and is planning more mayhem, but just as justice is about to rain down upon the swarthy schmuck, a sweet young girl wanders into the line of fire. With the help of the ‘Eye’ we’ve been watching her play with a hula-hoop and selling flatbread just over the wall from a suicide bomb factory and the target. She’s a triple threat to our Western eyes: cute, hula-hoop friendly, and entrepreneurial.
Powell wants the ‘kill’ regardless of the collateral splatter, but General Benson (Rickman) and assorted civil servants back at HQ get into a right flap as they grapple with the ethical and career-damaging ramifications. It’s a testament to the film’s power that you find yourself dragged into the debate and struggling for an easy answer.
While Mirren’s Colonel has no qualms, Rickman’s General is a little less convinced; it’s his granddaughter’s birthday, you see. He’s sent his aide out to buy a dolly because he’s too busy helping decide if another little girl gets turned into mince-meat. It all adds up to a classy, thrilling and seriously nail-biting experience.
Mirren is superb but Aaron Paul and Barkhad Abdi (the hijacker from Captain Phillips) sure make their presence felt. Seeing Rickman’s subtle magic, for the very last time, adds some extra special icing.