Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Eye in the Sky: A contemporary British cross between Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘50s period and Kathryn Bigelow’s war movies

     Though Helen Mirren has been featured as the star and has valiantly promoted the movie, Eye in the Sky depends upon a strong ensemble cast and an impressive script to achieve its goals.  It presents a number of hot button topics:  the geographically expanding Islamic war against the West; drone strikes; first world citizens becoming radicalized; gender equality in all manner of professions; inclusive casting; the Western literary tradition as a blueprint for modern cinema.  That sounds heady, but the movie is a wartime military thriller, a black comedy about indecisiveness at the highest levels, and a small-scale tragedy resulting from international conflict.

Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell
     Mirren plays a Colonel tracking a radicalized British citizen that she wants to capture.  However, that goal changes as a number of other factors suddenly present themselves and collateral casualties have to be calculated.  Mirren looks to be no older than when she began playing Jane Tennant on Prime Suspect in the early ‘90s.  However, since we have a history with her, there are moments when I felt like telling some of the other characters, “Don’t you know she’s the Queen and Jane Tennison?  Just do what she’s requesting.  We know she’ll be right; she has been for decades.”  We considered whether the character was a metaphorical reflection of Hillary Clinton.

Aaron Paul
     Neil wondered if Aaron Paul will draw a younger audience, especially since he gives a gutsy and sensitive performance as the pilot of the satellite controlled drone bomber.  
Alan Rickman
In one of his last roles, Alan Rickman displays both gravity and an ironic levity in dealing with the highest-level politicians and bureaucrats.  Barkhad Abdi, the chief pirate in Captain Phillips, plays the main spy on the ground, who finds himself in an almost impossibly suspenseful situation.  It’s a variation on Hitchcock’s definition of suspense, but substitutes a missile for a bomb.

Barkhad Abdi
     The British are uncertain and pained to unnecessarily destroy; their American counterparts portrayed by an unrecognizably corpulent Michael O’Keefe and an eager Laila Robbins (wonderful as Masha in John Doyle’s Playhouse production of Three Sisters a few years ago) display no second thoughts whatsoever.  At different points in the movie, 
Lalia Robbins
it’s difficult to know which view is more appropriate. The justification raised a number of times is that many people could be killed in a mall such as what happened in Nairobi in 2013.  Though filmed in South Africa, the setting is an older, shabbier suburb where the modern, westernized downtown can be seen.  Africa looks golden in Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography whereas Mirren seems to be working out of a high-tech cave – the military version of Batman?  Will the huge crowds attending dreck like Batman vs. Superman attend Eye in the Sky, which presents the actual principal world conflict?

A Drone's Perspective
     Guy Hibbert’s script works on a number of levels simultaneously and it pulled in the small audience with whom we saw it at The Esquire.  People were talking at the screen as well as checking out one another for reactions.  It’s the type of experience that electrified Classical Greek Theatre audiences.  Hibbert uses “In war, truth is the first casualty” by Aeschuylus as an epigraph, referring to the fear of public relations in conducting various rules of engagement.  However, that oversimplifies both the humor and the humanity of the story.  The movie seemed to be a contemporary descendant of the more mercurial Greek dramatist Euripides.  I don’t want to gave away much of the plot, but I think most viewers will want to yell out, “Buy that bread!  Buy that bread!”

No comments: