Monday, May 2, 2016

Eye in the Sky [2016]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (A-III) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jenson) review (G. Cheshire) review
AVClub (A. Nayman) review

The Guardian (B. Lee) review

Eye in the Sky [2016] (directed by Gavin Hood screenplay by Guy Hibbert) is a TRULY EXCELLENT contemporary military thriller set around a fictionalized joint British-Kenyan capture / rendition operation assisted by real-time surveillance offered by an (armed if necessary) American drone set to take place in a Nairobi slum against a number of high value operatives from the Somali Al Shabaab terrorist organization (affiliated with Al Queda).

Among those slated for capture were the #2 man of Al Shabaab along with his British-born but radicalized wife (played by Lex King).  British / Kenyan intelligence had been tipped-off that they were to meet two arriving recruits, one from the U.S. and the other from Britain in a nondescript if (now that B/K intel knew about it) surprisingly insecure safe-house near the edge of a Al Shabaab controlled Nairobi slum. 
A British colonel Katherine Powell (played excellently by Helen Mirren) who had been tasked with  searching for / tracking the Somali-British terrorist power-couple for five years, is in overall tactical command of the operation from a British military base in Southern England.  She is in real-time communication with a staggering array of far-flung personnel:

(1) Kenyan intelligence agents Jama Farah and Damisi (played by Barkhad Abdi and Ebby Weyime) staking-out both Nairobi's airport (for the arrivals of the two recruits) as well as the said home where the meeting is to take place;

(2) the leader of the Kenyan Special Forces detachment (played by Bronson Mwangi) massed in a warehouse nearby awaiting her order to storm the house in question;

(3) U.S. Air Force personnel, 2nd Leut. Steve Watts and 1AC Carrie Gershon (played by Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox), operating out of a self-contained 2-person air conditioned "module" (one of many) at a U.S.A.F. Base outside of Las Vegas, from where they pilot the armed Reaper drone flying 20,000 ft over Nairobi with its "television eye" fixed on the building in question;

(4) a U.S. presumably NSA imaging expert Lucy Galvez (played by Kim Engelbrecht) operating out of the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii tasked with giving quick confirmation of the presence of the people being targeted through the application of state-of-the-art facial recognition technology on images supplied to her by both the Kenyan intel operatives on the ground (at the airport / by the house) and the U.S.A.F. personnel operating the overhead drone; and finally

(5) her superior Lieutenant General Frank Benson (played by Alan Rickman) observing the operation from his office along with military lawyer Maj. Harold Webb (played by John Heffernan), the British Attorney General George Matherson (played by Richard McCabe) and finally a representative from Parliament Angela Northman (played by Monica Dolan) present in the room with him as well.

Jama Farah, the Kenyan intelligence agent at the airport, and then the operators of the U.S. drone are able send images to the NSA imaging expert in Hawaii that confirm the arrival of the two British / American recruits into the country and then to the house in question.  But who else is in the house?  Powell asks the Kenyan intel. agent Damisi staked out in a surveillance van nearby to investigate.  Agent Damisi then flies a hummingbird like drone by the windows of the house to try to peer in but to no avail.

Then, suddenly, the two recruits, said #2 man for Al Shabaab AND A WOMAN (but covered with a headscarf) appear to step-out of the building and into a van ... QUICKLY LEAVING the COMPOUND and heading into the Al Shabaab controlled slum nearby.  The aerial drone operators are able to keep eyes on the van until it stops at another house now definitely in the midst of the Al Shabaab controlled slum.  At this point, any "capture" option has become impossible (it would be a pitched battle in the middle of a heavily defended urban neighborhood).  HOWEVER a "drone strike" (targeted assassination) remains possible.  But ...

Do Col. Powell (and her superior Lt. Gen Benson) have the authority to do so?  Powell believes that she does, Lt. Gen. Benson is not sure, and the rest of the "observers" in his office are even less so.  After all, an attack on the said house would _kill_ two British nationals and an American one.  Yes, one was married to an Al Shabaab leader and two were recruits.  However, Maj. Harold Webb counsels "referring the matter up" to the British Foreign Secretary (played by Iain Glen).  They track him down AT A TRADE CONFERENCE in SINGAPORE.  He wants the affirmation of American support as well.  The U.S. Secretary of State (played by Michael O'Keefe) is at "a ping pong exhibition" in China and when he gets the call, doesn't understand the problem: The Al Shabaab leaders in question were already on U.S.'s "kill list" and the recruits were already considered enemy combatants.  Still the British were squeamish

In the meantime, Powell -- remember she's been following the two Al Shabaab leaders for years now -- asks the Kenyan intelligence people to get at least somebody close to the house in question.  Agent Jama Farah gets close and even flies a _insect (beatle) sized_ drone INTO THE HOUSE where TO THE HORROR OF ALL it's discovered that there are two suicide vests ready for the two new recruits to wear.  Al Shabaab itself seems to have something imminent planned ...

So ... the order is sent to the drone pilots there in Las Vegas that they want them to prepare to fire a Hell Fire missile at the house.  While certainly trained to do so, NEITHER of the two young pilots of the drone have actually been ordered to do this at an actual target ... and then ...

TO THE HORROR OF ALL ... the drone pilots spot A LITTLE GIRL (Alia was her name, played by Aisha Takow) SETTING-UP A TABLE RIGHT NEXT TO THE HOUSE IN QUESTION TO SELL BREAD.  What now???  The rest of the story follows ...

This is an excellent film, and I really do wish that EVERYONE that could conceivably be involved in a scenario like this SEE THE FILM -- Americans, Brits, RUSSIANS, CHINESE, AL SHABAAB, EVERYBODY.

It's such a tough call: Do you KILL _one kid_ TO SAVE _MAYBE_ 80?  (and of course, one is not targeting the kid, one's targeting the terrorists next door, but the collateral damage would probably kill the kid ...).

I thought that THE PILOTS (both YOUNG PEOPLE) played their roles EXCELLENTLY.  I thought that Helen Mirren played _her role_ EXCELLENTLY as well (after all SHE knew what those people inside the house were capable of).    I thought that Monica Dolan playing the representative from Parliament PLAYED HER ROLE _EXCELLENTLY_ telling the General that she did not come to this action to observe a targeted assassination let alone the slaughter of an innocent, that Parliament itself needed to discuss and Vote (!) on the "Rules of Engagement" for situations like this.   And Alan Rickman as SAID GENERAL played _his role_ EXCELLENTLY reminding the M.P. "not to lecture a military officer about the cost of war."


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