Category Archives: Recent Reviews

Warcraft (2016)

Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) may be the first talented director to adapt a video game to film. His first two films proved he could readily handle sci-fi stories on a small scale and with complicated plotlines. With Warcraft he has had his chance to use a huge budget and high end special effects to bring one of the most popular video game franchise (and a favorite of Jones’s) to the big screen. Obviously, video game adaptations have had a track record that ranges from mediocre to awful so expectations were low. I’m happy to say that while not revolutionary, Warcraft is an enjoyable ride.

The larger lore of the franchise is expansive, but the film focuses on the central conflict of orcs versus humans (also the subtitle of the first game). Azeroth, the human land, is at peace until rampaging orcs come through an interdimenionsal portal searching for a new homeland. They are led by Gul’dan (Daniel Wu; Europa Report), a shaman orc, who uses a wicked type of magic called the fel that requires life as a resource. He intends to capture enough humans to reopen the portal and bring the entire orc horde to Azeroth. Durotan (Toby Kebbell; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), an orc chieftan, begins to doubt Gul’dan after seeing the effects of his dark magic. On the other end of this conflict, the humans are unsure of how to deal with their new enemy. The orcs are hulking beasts capable of defeating a dozen men each. The ruler of a nearby land, King Llane (Dominic Cooper; Captain America), works with his brother-in-law and trusted knight Lothar (Travis Fimmel; Vikings) to quell this dangerous disturbance. They are assisted by a young mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer; Pride) and the Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster; 3:10 to Yuma), a wise and powerful wizard sworn to protect Azeroth. Together they capture a half-orc Garona (Paula Patton; Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) who works as their translator as they form a plan.

If that all sounds difficult to keep track of, it is. Yet it’s not as confusing as it could be. Jones and his co-writer Chris Metzen (a lead writer at Warcraft‘s video game developer Blizzard Entertainment) do their best to not overwhelm the audience with the expanded fiction. There are several named characters and locations, but each has distinctly different designs. You may not be able to remember their names but by the half hour mark the characters are easily recognizable and the hurdle of introducing the deep Warcraft lore to a new audience has been overcome.

The orcs's search for a homeland unexpected humanizes them.
The orcs’s search for a homeland unexpectedly humanizes them.

The script keeps the external details simple and instead focuses on subverting expectations of the genre. The minute orcs and humans are shown in the same movie, the plot can be immediately inferred. Orcs are assumed to be the bad guys, but the writers have added extra dimension to their motivations. As Durotan loses trust in Gul’dan and his deadly magic that slowly destroys the land, he attempts to forge an alliance with the humans to overthrow him and live in peace. These aren’t bloodthirsty beasts that kill humans for sport. They are families fleeing their desolate world in search of a better life. They want a home in a land that can be sustained, not just a new place to pillage. The internal conflict within the orc tribe effectively deconstructs their brutish appearance to explore their sympathetic goals.

Like the plot details, the special effects also have an adjustment period. The early scenes that only feature computer generated imagery are impressive in detail. The towering orcs are animated down to the shifting of skin and muscle over bone, giving their movements a physicality rarely seen in special effects. The trouble comes when they are placed alongside human characters. The modeled orcs fall into the uncanny valley when adjacent to the live-action actors, making the humans appear as if poorly superimposed onto an animated film. Fortunately, this disconcerting effect eventually wears down allowing the narrative to come into focus.

The narrative, however subversive, falls prey to the larger goals of the franchise. There is an overabundance of establishing shots. These vistas are clearly being forced into the film both as fanservice and to reinforce the grand nature of the greater Warcraft lore to unfamiliar audiences. While seeing locations rendered in such high fidelity will surely delight some fans, it will likely not have any effect on newcomers. Furthermore, Jones does not do enough to differentiate this story from other high fantasy. The standard tropes are present (mages, dwarves, elves, and plenty of british accents) but, unlike other successful fantasy like Game of ThronesWarcraft‘s larger world appears derivative.

Blizzard’s goal with Warcraft is more than box office profits; they want to bring a declining franchise to new markets as evidenced by the free copy provided with each ticket. Yet, nothing about the film implies the expanded universe is unique enough to inspire such interest. There may be some new converts, but those will largely be attached to the movies, not to the games. It’s also clear that they plan to continue the films if possible. After a climactic moment, the story concludes abruptly, clearly skipping the needed denouement in order to allow for sequels that may or may not be made. This is an unfortunate development as the action scenes and overall story are well directed. The sight of massive orcs squashing humans like a game of whack-a-mole is thrilling and the characters, both orc and human, have relatable desires. While the goals of establishing the Warcraft fiction to create a new film franchise and entice new players to the video game are mostly unsuccessful and often detract from the overall product, Jones has delivered an action film that will satisfy longtime fans as well as entertain the uninitiated.

3/5 stars.

The Meddler (2016)

What are all moms best at? Everyone knows the answer to that question: forcibly inserting themselves into your life. The Meddler features Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise) as Marnie, a widow that was left with a large sum of money after her husband passed. So, she did the only natural thing and moved from Brooklyn to LA to be closer to her writer daughter Lori (Rose Byrne; Neighbors). Still reeling from a recent breakup, Lori is depressed and only wants to be alone. She goes to great lengths to avoid social events with her friends but unfortunately can’t avoid her mother who has a key to her house

Director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) accurately captures how ingratiating a mother’s unwanted help can be, despite good intentions. Everyday Marnie calls repeatedly and leaves meandering voicemails that aren’t actually about anything. She asks her 30 something daughter to text her each time she leaves the house and does things after beings specifically asked not to. As Lori tries to set boundaries, Marnie uses her free time to become a part of other peoples lives. She attaches herself to Lori’s friends and other strangers she meets, offering unsolicited advice at every turn. Marnie starts driving an Apple store employee to night school, planning (and funding) a wedding for Lori’s friend, and helps a bedridden woman at the local hospital. She fully occupies herself with financially and emotionally helping others.

Zipper introduces Marnie to the other women in his life...his chickens.
Zipper introduces Marnie to the other women in his life…his chickens.

Marnie creates relationships with others to fill the hole left by her late husband. After she starts seeing Lori’s therapist and gets approached by interested men, she exposes how fragile she is. Any mention of his passing and she’ll change the topic. It’s clear that both she and Lori are still grieving their loss, but the film does not fully explore its effects. It gestures towards these deeper feelings but barely skims the surface before reverting back to comedy.

The few glimpses into her true emotional state occur when she meets Zipper (J.K. Simmons; Whiplash), a retired cop who raises chickens. Simmons, for his part, is thoroughly charismatic as her Harley-loving suitor. His gentle approach and understanding of her behavior only serve to further endear him. As their romance grows, there are telling moments when Marnie deliberately pulls back. He invites her over, but she declines even though she is interested. She is still connected her late husband and isn’t ready to move on to someone else.

Despite her antics, Marnie never becomes unlikable. Even as she tries to steer Lori’s love life or uses salt bagels as a form of mental and emotional help, her deep affection for her daughter is always apparent. However, the film focuses too much on this behavior without thoroughly examining her and Lori’s grief. It sticks to the easy laughs and misses the opportunity to provide insights into the emotional aftermath of a losing a loved one. Without this added depth, The Meddler remains an agreeable comedy, but falls short of its potential and lacks the dramatic heft needed to give it staying power.

3/5 stars.

The Wailing (2016)

In a small village outside Seoul local policeman Jong-Goo (Kwak Do-won) is called to a crime scene. A previously normal man has viciously killed his family through repeated stabbing. The trend continues as more crimes occur featuring average people suddenly going on murderous rampages and losing their minds. All of these events began soon after a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) moves into town and rumors spread in the village that he is somehow connected to the murders.

The Wailing starts out as a standard police procedural but soon hints at a supernatural bent.  The culprits of these horrific crimes have a feral quality, growling and convulsing as if possessed. Some are seen prowling naked in the night before the crimes are committed. When people begin indicting the Japanese man for these horrendous happenings, they claim he has cast some sort of spell…literally. This is a setting where demons and witchcraft are very serious concerns.

The shaman makes his attempt to remedy the situation.
The shaman makes his attempt to remedy the situation.

The film establishes several potential sources of unnatural intervention. The Japanese man, a Christian priest, and a shaman all have their own rituals and beliefs. Whether it’s holding a cross, sacrificing animals, or dramatic rites, each custom is portrayed in the same alien fashion. As the film progresses Jong-Goo must decide who to believe, but there is no clear answer. They all seem strange in their own way and the confusion only adds to the heavy dread already present.

There are strong resemblances to Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece Memories of Murder. A somewhat competent cop, a series of murders in a small town, and near constant rainfall. Director Na Hong-jin (The Yellow Sea) uses the torrential precipitation to demonstrate the hopelessness of the situation. He also contrasts the idyllic countryside filled with lush forests against the gruesome murders. Like Bong, Na skewers the desire to describe complex issues with clear, understandable principles. The townspeople try to attribute the crimes to religious beliefs as a method of deflecting reality. What is the better conclusion, that a person has been cursed or that they knowingly committed a heinous crime? As Jong-Goo navigates this spiritual struggle, director Na expertly balances the human fears with the magical possibilities.

4/5 stars.

Love & Friendship (2016)

Whit Stillman’s fifth feature in 16 years and his first period piece proves to be one his strongest efforts. Adapted from a novella by Jane Austen, the film follows Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale; Underworld), a once wealthy widow, navigating the circles of high society in late 1800s England. Her high lifestyle is provided by the friends and family members she moves between as she uses her social skills to secure a better life for herself and her 16 year old daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark).

Calling them social skills is putting it lightly. Lady Susan has the gift of gab and is fully aware of her powers. She lies, feigns emotions, and uses every form of manipulation possible. With a few exceptions, she is able to cast a spell over her acquaintances to have them do her bidding. Her plan to maintain her posh life is to wed her daughter to the wealthy, kind, but clearly idiotic man, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett; PhoneShop), and seduce her young, wealthy brother-in-law, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel; Twilight Saga: Eclipse) into marrying her. Unfortunately for Lady Susan, the rest of her in-laws are aware of her methods and do everything possible to prevent her engagement to Reginald.

Stillman has always been interested in high society. In his debut film, Metropolitan, he explored the lives of what he called UHBs (Urban Haute Bourgeoisie), young wealthy aristocrats, and his characters even spent time discussing various pieces of Austen’s oeuvre. It’s clear that he and Austen share a love of the inner circles of the upper class. He takes full advantage of the setup from Austen’s book in creating his own vision. Stillman hones in on the minutiae of his character’s lives. He mines the excessive formalities of the time for full comedic effect. Characters often are polite to the point of laughable awkwardness. Their desire to remain polite leads to overlapping pleasantries that always entertain.

Love-Friendship-Movie-Wallpaper-21-1280x720
Sir James’s winning smile more than makes up for his lack of intelligence.

The best example of this is with Sir James. Like the character Thor from Damsels in Distress (a college student who still doesn’t know his colors), Sir James repeatedly fails to understand even the most basic concepts. This combined with his jovial demeanor and desire to please cause several unnecessary – and hilarious – misunderstandings. He’s a moron, but he’s a sweet lovable moron that steals the show every time he’s onscreen.

Lady Susan on the other hand couldn’t be more different. Like Greta Gerwig’s character from Damsels in Distress, she is a crafty manipulator. “Facts are a terrible thing”, she tellingly says to her confidant played by Chloë Sevigny (American Psycho). She is so bought into her own lies that it becomes difficult to tell fact from fiction, but Beckinsale makes the character’s pathological dishonesty believable. Just as Lady Susan manipulates the people around her, she is also able to entrance the audience. We know what she’s doing, but she’s too damn good at it for us to care.

Whit Stillman and Jane Austen have shown themselves to be the perfect pairing for a comedy of manners. Her wheelhouse of high society England melds seamlessly with his signature humor. He takes the prim, proper idiosyncrasies of the time and his lead’s habitual chicanery and exaggerates them to the point of ridiculousness. Stillman uses Lady Susan’s verbose, elaborate lies to keep everyone spinning, but the tailspin – and the continuous laughs that come with it – are just too enjoyable to stop.

4/5 stars.

The Nice Guys (2016)

Director Shane Black has now made a name for himself as a creator of buddy action comedies, starting with writing Lethal Weapon and later directing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and more recently Iron Man 3. Here we have Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), a bruiser for hire, teaming up with Ryan Gosling (Drive), a private detective, he hired to find a missing girl who is in danger. After being contracted to “send a message” to Gosling, Crowe decides to go back in order to hire him to help find one of his previous clients. The two make a deliberately odd couple with Crowe playing the efficient pragmatist and Gosling as the inept screw-up.

Above all else, Black’s goal here is comedy, but he is mostly unsuccessful. There were a few good laughs but the jokes miss more often than they hit. The humor can be divided into two broad categories: dialogue-based and physical. The dialogue-based humor, which is where the majority of jokes come from, mostly fails. Gosling’s delivery is often overconfident and dismissive, making his character slightly repulsive. Crowe’s jokes are based on his practicality, but instead of appearing curt, his rarely changing facial expressions just make him seem bored in the situation. Black’s strength is clearly with physical comedy. The best laughs involve Gosling falling and the gag only gets funnier with each tumble. It’s too bad that the director was not able to emphasize his slapstick skills as it would have created a much better film.

niceguys2
Crowe and Gosling’s first encounter is not amicable.

Part of the problem is that neither of the leads is likable. Crowe comes off as cold and, due to his profession, cruel. Gosling on the other hand is shown as somewhat incompetent and sleazy. He systematically extorts additional money from each job and takes advantage of confused elderly clients. We’re supposed to care about Gosling because he is a single dad, but the father-daughter connection is never established. The majority of the film has him sending his daughter (Angourie Rice; These Final Hours) to stay overnight at a friends house because he has to work. Her presence, or her mother’s absence, alone is not enough to create sympathy for an otherwise low-level, unscrupulous investigator.

Additionally, the attempts to create moral dilemmas are never fully fleshed out. The is a recurring motif where Gosling and Crow are asked if they are bad people. Gosling’s daughter easily answers yes for him, whereas Crowe isn’t sure what he is. During his violent encounters, he tries to stop before delivering a killing blow, especially when Rice is nearby. Yet, to the audience, the answer is obvious. He beats people up for money so there is no doubt that he is a bad person, which makes the central plot of the movie less believable. Why would Crow care about a former client enough to look out for her? He has never cared about his clients or victims before which makes this character turn unconvincing.

While plausibility or even sympathetic characters have never been requirements for a successful comedy, the humor needs to overcome these details. With The Nice Guys, Shane Black has been unable to beat these obstacles. There are just too many jokes that don’t produce any amusement. The physical humor does have its moments, but the frequency of laughs isn’t enough to sustain the runtime.

2/5 stars.

Tale of Tales (2016)

With recent releases like The Huntsman and Frozen, fairy tale adaptations are becoming increasingly common. Tale of Tales is also an adaptation of three mostly unrelated stories set in medieval Europe intercut together. The first story is about a Queen (Salma Hayek; Frida) who desires a child above all else. The second is about a King with a daughter who is interested in finding a husband while he is more interested in his pet flea. The final story is about two old sisters who try to fool the lustful King (Vincent Cassel; Ocean’s Twelve) into thinking they are young.

The stories are heavily inspired by the works of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, but incorporate their own blend of metaphors and surrealism. Magic, ogres, and monsters are all present but they are portrayed in an atmosphere of desperation – one of the running motifs of the film. The characters focus on their goals to the point of obsession. The Queen desires her son’s love more than his own happiness, the King pays so much attention to his pet flea that he marries her to the wrong person, and the old sisters care more about their place in life than each other. In their fanatical pursuit of their desires, they damage the relationships they have for the unneeded ones they want.

Castel del Monte
Gorgeous locations like the Castel del Monte recreate the fantasy world.

All of this is presented with superb period detail. The cinematography is stunning with real castles and landscapes filmed on location and CGI used only sparingly. The dresses are immaculately designed and when characters are placed within the towering stone buildings, the film creates a believable medieval world with fantasy elements that feel right at home in the setting.

Unfortunately the grand total of the film is not greater than, or even equal to, the sum of its parts. Director Matteo Garrone has brought these fables to life and added his own layer of realistic gloom, but has not elevated them above their simple origins. The morals of each tale are clear, but not particularly profound or original. The stories are well told and beautifully framed, but their impact is ultimately fleeting.

3/5 stars.

Sing Street (2016)

What would you do to impress someone? For Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), the answer to that question is basically anything. After being transferred to a new school, he sees Raphina (Lucy Boynton) standing across the road and goes up to talk to her. He finds out that she’s a model so he creates a relationship the only way he knows how: he asks her to be in a music video for his band. This would have been a good idea except he doesn’t actually have a band. Conor and his friend recruit band members and start writing songs and making music videos. His initial hope is just to find an excuse to talk to Raphina but eventually his musical ambitions grow to match and entwine with his romantic goals.

The film is set in the ’80s and is heavily influenced by the music of the era. Conor’s older brother hands out records like a teacher assigns homework to guide the musical progression of the band. Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, The Cure and more artists are the sonic inspiration for the developing group as well as the soundtrack to the film. The band’s original music begins spectacularly as each song is energetic, catchy, and sincerely adolescent. Despite the high production values added by the real songwriter and music producer, they feel honest to the characters’ age. These early tracks are so memorable that when the later songs are played, while still strong, they feel lackluster in comparison. Instead of steadily building to a showstopping number, the film’s final performance is overshadowed which detracts from the emotional climax that it is supposed coincide with.

The band clearly doesn’t know what they’re doing and they don’t care.

Director John Carney (Once) displays a deep affection for his characters. The story is the semi-autobiographical account of his own childhood and each of the band members, while clearly misfits, are endearing in their own way. The main cast had no prior acting experience and Carney is able bring out natural performances from them. The key instrumental talent Eamon (Mark McKenna) spends most of his time doing “rabbit stuff” and the pint-sized redhead Darren (Ben Carolan) is oblivious to his own limits as he signs up as the band’s manager, music video producer, and cinematographer. They’re also hilariously unaware of their mistakes. Conor’s attempts at acting cool in front of Raphina are endearing failures and the band’s attempts at creating a signature look fail miserably as each band member is limited to what he can find in his closet, This leads to a band with members dressed in a ’80s suede disco suit, a heavy trenchcoat, and even a cowboy.

It is this disregard for realities and probabilities that gives Sing Street its infectious charm. The characters are underdogs that don’t realize it and they take every challenge head on. Form a band? Ok. Write a song? Let’s get started. They never take a moment to examine their own abilities which fills the film with a sweet, naive optimism. And this applies to more than making music. The film compares music to love. Conor’s brother says “Rock and a roll is a risk…” and its clear throughout that this is the same risk Conor takes in pursuing Raphina. In pursuing his passion, he risks ridicule and failure, but, as Raphina puts it, “for [your] art [you] can never do anything by half.” Sing Street is a vivacious and endearing story of growing up through music and romance with an exceptional soundtrack that will be on many playlists for years to come.

five stars

5/5 stars.

Fireworks Wednesday (2016)

In 2011, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film with A Separation. Despite being his 5th feature film, it was his first to play in the United States. Since then, distributors have been releasing his back catalog starting with About Elly last year and now Fireworks Wednesday, originally released in 2006. As with his previous films, this is a domestic drama. A young woman, Roohi (Taraneh Alidoosti; About Elly), working as a maid through a temp agency goes to the apartment of a couple about to leave for vacation. Their home is a mess with broken glass from an argument the previous night. During the course of the day, Roohi becomes increasingly entangled in the potential infidelity that led to the fight and plays a vital role in alternatingly fanning and dousing the flames.

Fireworks Wednesday uses minute details to drive its tension. Farhadi’s other films also rely on this technique, but it is noticeably less effective here. The film has a much slower start because, unlike the movies that would follow, the main character is not central to the conflict – she is an outsider. The source of the central conflict is not revealed soon enough making the beginning of the film largely irrelevant as it only serves to introduce Roohi to the scenario. This breaks the sympathy found in Farhadi’s later works. Roohi does not need to be involved in the situation so the drama seems forced and avoidable. Her actions seem like the work of a well-intentioned busybody rather than the tragic, but understandable mistakes of the heartbreakingly human characters we have come to expect from the director.

Roohi becomes embedded in this couple’s troubles.

The film lacks the mystery needed to entice the viewer. Roohi’s actions are all shown on screen so instead of the startling revelations of Farhadi’s newest releases, the limited suspense can only be derived from waiting to see how other characters respond which is rarely a surprise. Furthermore, the key details that lead to conflicts are more blatantly telegraphed. Fireworks Wednesday was only the 3rd film from Farhadi so it is likely that he was still honing his craft here. It is also the last film of his to have a co-writer, which may have contributed to the lack of subtlety in the script.

The performances, however, are consistently strong. Even when the story approaches melodrama, the actors are always believable in their desperation. Characters can swing from innocent to guilty and back again without jarring shifts in tone. The young son of the couple is particularly effective during his brief screen time. Farhadi has had a trend of using children as the voice of reason during chaos. While the adults bend facts and focus on the drama from their perspective, the boy clearly articulates the situation in a sweet and tearful explanation to his confused uncle. The director’s strengths with actors are evident even early in his career.

It’s almost unfair to compare this film, or any other for that matter, to the high bar set by Farhadi’s last three projects. Most movies released would come up short because there are few filmmakers working today that can match his intricate plots and subtly escalating tension. Fireworks Wednesday does not have the precision of its successors, but it is a promising rough draft of the template Farhadi would later perfect.

3/5 stars.

Green Room (2016)

A lot of bands spend time living out of a van and traveling from gig to gig. For hardcore bands, the venues can range from heavy to dangerous. Green Room, the third film from writer-director Jeremy Saulnier, follows a little known heavy metal band as they tour. Struggling to make ends meet after a canceled concert, a journalist friend gets them the chance to headline at a place his cousin knows. What he doesn’t tell the band is that this show is in the middle of nowhere at a bar filled with white supremacists. A normal person would immediately turn around and get the hell out of there, but this is an metal band. So what they do? They get on stage and open with a new song whose only lines are “Nazi Punks! Nazi Punks! FUCK OFF!!!”.

The bulk of the movie is about the aftermath of their concert. Surprisingly, it’s not the lyrics that get them in trouble but rather an event they mistakenly witness in the titular green room. Now a liability to the owner of the venue, the band is stuck in the middle of the woods locked in the green room unable to get help. What happens next? That is where Green Room separates itself from Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin.

This band is hard, man.

Green Room has noticeably lesser ambitions than its predecessor. Blue Ruin was a taut deconstruction of its genre. The hero wasn’t a John Wayne-like badass. He was a regular person, unskilled in violence. It was the rare revenge movie where violence had consequences for everyone involved. While Green Room retains the high level of suspense, it chooses to stay within the confines of its genre – a slasher movie with a metal band and white supremacists instead of teenagers and a serial killer. The limited nature of the film does however lessen the overall impact when compared to Blue Ruin.

Saulnier again shows off his skills as a director. His visuals (he was also the cinematographer on Blue Ruin) continue to excel, using the serene forests to contrast with the dingy, propaganda-laden interiors. The film is well paced with tension built and released on point. The moments of violence, of which there are many, are visceral and significantly more explicit than most R-rated features. From hacked but not severed limbs to bullet-ridden heads, the gruesome details are happily displayed. Macon Blair (Blue Ruin) plays the role of the club manager and is again immediately sympathetic as the slightly incompetent everyman put in a difficult situation. Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) is the pragmatic owner who has to clean up the mess. Stewart’s performance is adequate, but he is perhaps miscast as he isn’t able to exhibit the degree of villainy needed for the role to be believable. Green Room has modest goals, but its creators have more than enough skill to achieve them. It won’t be acclaimed for its scope, but as a slasher film, it thrills and shocks with ruthless precision.

4/5 stars.

Eye in the Sky (2016)

What is the cost of fighting terrorism? That is the broader question looming over Eye in the Sky. Directed by Gavid Hood (TsotsiEnder’s Game), the film narrows this problem down to the scale of one single drone strike in Kenya. After trailing these terrorists on the East Africa Most Wanted list for years, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) leads a mission to selectively bomb the house they are meeting in. Unfortunately, there are strict rules of engagement in this situation and before any strike can be launched she needs the permission of General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman, Harry Potter) and several politicians who have conflicting viewpoints.

Drone strikes and questions of their legality and morality have been highlighted in the news recently and Eye in the Sky displays the complexities and minutiae that are inherent in military missions. A major theme of the film is responsibility and blame. Who really makes a decision that, while killing terrorists, could risk harming innocents? Is it the pilot who pulls the trigger? The Colonel that gives the order to fire? The general or several politicians that defined their rules of engagement? The film implies that responsibility is held at each point in the chain of command and the aftermath of these decisions is felt by everyone. One of the most interesting points brought up in the ongoing discussion is about the larger implications of casualties. If they kill one child to save 80 people from a potential suicide bomber, will the British government become reviled? Is vilifying the terrorists in the media worth allowing a bombing to occur? Again, the movie smartly avoids providing direct answers to these questions and is impressively balanced in portraying each opinion.

Every factor, political, moral, or legal is scrutinized.
Every factor, political, moral, or legal is scrutinized.

Furthermore, the film explores how political involvement in the military matters can undermine their efficacy. Beyond morality, each politician in the film considers the political impact of the bombing. How will this affect their career? Their party? In one case a ranking politician asks to a dissenting voice, “Will you be the one who has to go on morning news shows to explain this?”. The film shows how these considerations cripple the politicians with indecision as they continually “refer up” to avoid culpability, despite the time-sensitive nature of the operation. When they begin to rely on predictive damage models to make their decisions, the question of reliability of data is also raised. How much of these models are based on fact and can they change if a ranking military official wants them to? The films shows the desperation that can be created by indecision at a critical moment.

Eye in the Sky is primarily a film about these ideas but it does however have brief action scenes in Africa. Barkhad Abdi of Captain Phillips (He is not the Captain now) plays their man on the ground. Hood deftly uses these scenes to contrast the political risks with the dangers agents in that position take trying to fight terrorism everyday. For the the most part they are well staged. The only flaw is many of the effects are obviously computer generated and can break the otherwise successful immersion.

When decisions are finally made, the film avoids simple resolution. The actions taken – and the actions not taken – play out and the consequences are felt by all. Did someone “win” the arguments? Was the mission successful? What does “success” even mean in the this scenario? As the credits roll, these are the questions that linger over the characters and the audience. Eye in the Sky, succeeds by raising these questions and enforcing the uncertainty of any possible answer.

4/5 stars.