Eye in the Sky is officially Alan Rickman’s final film. I hadn’t been putting off seeing it so much as waiting for it, until I noticed that it had quietly snuck onto video recently; which is pretty par for the course for the attention his movies normally receive, reinforcing Tery’s playful teasing that no one cares about him as much as I do (did).
Still, I didn’t watch it immediately because then he would be finally, truly dead. No more new Alan stuff, ever. That’s a big weight to put on a movie.
Especially since war movies really aren’t my thing. I saw Blackhawk Down for Ewan McGregor, and The Hurt Locker for the Oscars, but neither thrilled me very much. I’m turned off by complex missions and big platoons with unrecognizable helmeted actors until you learn their character names, and gruff sergeants barking orders, not to mention war in general is just horrible, am I right?
Eye, I’m pleased to report, avoids most of these things (in fact, all but the last, which is the message that no war film should skimp on because humans are dumb and violent, and taking an unusually long time learning this lesson). But let me begin at the beginning (SPOILERS TO FOLLOW).
When Alan comes on screen, I won’t lie, it was harder than I expected. It felt like watching a ghost. I felt tears welling even when they cut away from him. This only lasted for the first fifteen minutes or so.
The story is refreshingly straightforward for a war movie. A drone mission to surveil a terrorist cell in Nairobi unexpectedly becomes a kill operation when they realize they have an elusive three of their top five wish list in one location…and they’re preparing suicide bomb vests. But an enormous monkeywrench appears in the form of an innocent girl selling bread right in the blast radius.
And that’s it. The entirety of the film is basically spent debating the morality of whether or not to proceed. Not since 1983’s War Games has there been a movie consisting almost solely of people staring at computer screens so gripping.
To Colonel Helen Mirren and General Alan, the choice is clear: risking one girl to save potentially 80 other innocents is a no-brainer, but they need authorization from politicians, who only care about how it will spin in the media. Eighty people killed by terrorists looks better than one girl killed by a drone. Which sounds pretty disgusting until it’s pointed out that children being murdered by drones makes an excellent recruiting tool for extremists. So perhaps we can’t blame the politicians for doing everything they can to pass this buck higher up the chain.
(Still, it was funny to me watching Alan texting Helen back and forth, knowing in real life he wanted nothing to do with computers.)
Then there’s drone operator Aaron Paul, who has never had to deploy a missile, only ever done surveillance. It would be like if I showed up to work at the hospital and was told I had to put a bunch of animals to sleep, with all my coworkers watching, and yes I’ve had nightmares like that. He’s the one lobbying the hardest for the girl, for obvious reasons, as he’d be the one pulling the trigger. He unexpectedly became the soul of the whole movie. I’m becoming increasingly impressed with him as an actor.
Then there’s the fourth star of the film. The terrorists’ rooftop gets almost as much screen time as everyone else combined.
(The only time the film requires suspension of disbelief is watching the painstakingly slow assembly of the suicide vests. I’ve seen this done once before (in Showtime’s “Homeland,” I think) and that took a quarter of the time, so one of them is doing it wrong.)
I don’t want to spoil the end completely (although I might unavoidably in my final paragraph, so you still have time to look away). I’ll say that this movie succeeds in getting you hugely invested in the outcome, makes you think about what you would do, and perhaps make you thankful that such weighty decisions aren’t left up to you. At the very least, it should change the way you look at drone warfare. Obama took a lot of crap for using drone strikes, but assuming this film is at all accurate, it’s not just a matter of mindlessly pushing a button and killing people you never see halfway around the world. There are still humans with their finger hovering over the button and making decisions and weighing consequences…I hope.
(FINAL SPOILER ALERT)
The “comfort” of waging war over a spot of tea is addressed in Alan’s last scene, as he faces a very accusatory judgey secretary (? maybe. I’m not sure who she is.) He delivers the final monologue of his career/life, and it’s a doozy. Topped off with perhaps the most devastating line of his whole career, bringing every ounce of his considerable gravitas to bear, each word hanging in the air like a 50-pound lead weight (which might not make sense; I’m grieving, damn you): “Never…tell a soldier…he does not know…the cost…of war.”
Wow. One-two punch. I’m so relieved he went out with a bang, because without this movie, his last work would be the second Alice in Wonderland where he literally has like two lines as a CGI caterpillar and that’s no good at all.
But without him I would have missed this movie, which would have been a mistake because it’s easily one of the best I’ve seen this year. You shouldn’t make that mistake (Eye in the Sky is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Amazon Prime streaming).