At the Permanent Joint Headquarters in London, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) coordinates Operation Egret, an international effort to eradicate three of the top terrorists on the East African most wanted list. When their targets all arrive at a house in a militant-controlled district in Kenya, the original capture mission becomes shoot to kill, prompting uncertainty in drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), impatience in General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), and hesitation in Foreign Secretary James Willett (Iain Glen). As the politicians, lawyers, and military personnel wage arguments for and against consenting to the new parameters, a young Nairobi girl (Aisha Takow) enters the casualty zone, forcing all involved to weigh the consequences of their actions with that of inaction against the escalating activities of the terrorists.
Al-Shabab, Sharia law, and extremist ideology are certainly timely topics to put on display for an involving debate. And “Eye in the Sky” is certainly worthy of discussion, populated by stunning moments of tension and suspense as innocent lives in crosshairs are measured against potential victims of future violence. But instead of allowing the audience to see through the eyes of all the various players, in a game of political maneuverings versus military steadfastness, writer Guy Hibbert opts to show far more than necessary. In fact, his script goes to great lengths to divulge information to the viewer that isn’t – and shouldn’t – be available to the cast.
Like “The Net” or “Enemy of the State,” this surveillance movie acknowledges the advanced technologies that allow for some alarming invasions of privacy and some useful tools against the bad guys. Strangely, the use of hummingbird and beetle drones, which use wing movements to mimic their respective animals and which are also built to scale, looks like something out of a sci-fi project. It doesn’t truly matter whether or not they’re based on real military machines; it’s instantly detrimental that their actuality is disputable.
It also brings into question the motivations and morals of the people controlling those instruments, along with all the red tape and bureaucratic interferences that are supposed to serve as precautions against poor decisions. Clearly, this is where the realism lies. Here, however, the level of coincidence and the numerous, manipulative devices employed to heighten the chaos of this particularly cinematic group of choices and consequences are so exaggerated that they routinely border on comical. Just when audiences couldn’t imagine more politicians edging their way into the deliberation (there are already six different bases of operation and six corresponding teams), additional locations and statesmen are thrust into the fray, occasionally turning heated arguments into something of an unintentionally funny occasion (the U.S. government representatives are, humorously, the most ruthless in their conclusions).
“We have to know that we’re legally in the clear,” insists Rickman’s Benson, summing up the chief reason that tough decisions are rarely made with ease. In politics, it would seem that idleness is the safest play. And yet, despite the purposeful posing of ethical dilemmas, “Eye in the Sky” isn’t content with portraying those controversial choices with ambiguous outcomes. Instead, the end result (and the finale of the film) is overly detailed, imparting an obvious sense of condemnation on the highly contended actions. It carries on too long, numbing the power of the tragedies while judging who is right and wrong for the viewer, rather than letting each individual come away with something different. In its hopes to be poignant, “Eye in the Sky” loses track of its initial convictions, which consisted of placing audiences directly into the war rooms with the military leaders and the politicians as they hash out the rules of engagement and collateral damage estimates to determine an acceptable loss of life (a Sophie’s choice of sorts that most people could never fathom making).