EVERY story needs a focus. No matter how grand the scope, no matter how world shattering the events in the story may be, it is impossible to tell a story without focus. Almost every story could be told from a number of different perspectives and focuses. For example, Lord Of The Rings could be told as a broad, panoramic history, dealing with all of the relevant events over the entire world, or it could be told as it was, somewhat more narrowly, focusing on the actions of a few key characters. I make a point of bringing this up because any story can be told from almost any point of view, but for some reason certain levels of focus have almost become a genre in of themselves, which comes with the audience making certain assumptions.
Eye In The Sky is one of those films, belonging to the category of extremely focused stories, what tvtropes.com would refer to as a “bottle episode” (other examples would be The Hateful Eight, or any Friends episode set entirely in the apartment building). These films take place with a small cast over the course of a small amount of time, usually a day. This scope allows the film to focus on the characters, their interactions, motivations and thoughts. While as valid as any other creative choice, audiences tend to make assumptions about this sort of film. The very notion of action in one or two rooms, with a small cast, with most of the action being talking brings to mind a particularly obnoxious sort of film, one perhaps with too high an opinion of itself.
This is no accident, there are a number of films which attempt to use this style but which, due to poor writing and directorial choices, suffer from this level of focus. This is because this focus serves almost like a concentration of the writing, good writing is magnified many times over, as is bad writing. It can also be a tempting style for a director with a low budget, who may not be able to afford a top notch writing team. Similarly this low budget requirement can be appealing to those who want to try something more high-concept, which may be less than appealing for most audiences.
As such, while Eye In The Sky does use this very focused style, I wish to dispel the notion that this makes the film pretentious or dull, in fact it is one of the most intense films I have seen all year. It is very much not a pretentious art film, it does have a point, and asks questions, but they are fairly basic, grounded questions, framed through a very well told story.
Eye In The Sky uses a fairly simple set up, a number of people, in a number of rooms throughout the world, trying to make a single decision: whether or not to launch a drone strike on foreign soil. It is a complex question, one people have been debating for some time, which the film condenses into the events of a single day. It uses this premise to explore a number of questions, from political decision making, to whether modern warfare is removed from the horrors of war. The more grounded questions are also addressed, one by one various characters try to find an answer to the question of the drone strike, and in so doing many of the arguments and debates policy makers have had surrounding the issue are discussed. From legal questions to geo-political ones, collateral damage and moral considerations are all taken into consideration.
While this may sound like an almost sterile recorded session of a debate club that is far from the case. Eye In The Sky benefits from a rich cast of characters, and a number of top notch performances, including the late, great, Alan Rickman as Lieutenant General Frank Benson and Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell. Not only does everyone come from their own perspective on the issue, from some who simply want to do their job, to others who are fairly strong moral objectors, but the film greatly benefits from showing us a glimpse into some characters lives in more mundane situations. These characters and performances greatly enrich the film, elevating it from a presentation of a philosophical question to a true drama, with characters wrestling with their relationships with each other, the world and their own morality.
As mentioned earlier, Eye In The Sky is a fairly intense experience. The focus, as well as the suspense created by the situation, as well as the tension this causes are all masterfully handled, resulting in a very intense, almost harrowing experience. If it is to be criticised for anything it may be that the film knows it is suspenseful, and tries to play on this in too many ways, some of which are less successfully that others.
Should you see Eye In the Sky? Well, those who read my reviews often enough will know I encourage people to see almost any film, if only to see if they will enjoy it. However I would definitely encourage people who may not have been considering it to go see Eye In the Sky. Do not let the tight focus and attempt to address fairly tough questions cause you to to develop any prejudice. Far from being pretentious, Eye In the Sky is a masterfully done, surprisingly down to earth and practical exploration of these issues. Anyone with an interest in tension and these issues, as well as anyone interested in a particularly well done thriller would certainly benefit from giving Eye In the Sky a look.