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Eye in the Sky

A Gripping Prophecy

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Eye in the Sky

Is there anything Helen Mirren can’t do? With Eye in the Sky she does nothing less than show us the ways of modern warfare. Did you read in your daily newspaper that a top ISIS operator had been erased? This movie tells you how. It is a first rate thriller delivered by a good cast that startles audiences with the details of control by technology.

On one hand, we watch that extraordinary technology unfold; on the other, we are caught up in the fictional story built around that new science. Both are frightening. As new as drone warfare is, there are no rules written or implied to govern it, no precedents to interpret because there simply are no precedents. We have never before been able to position a functional camera inside a house in the Middle East while controlling it from a base in Nevada.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is the officer in charge of following up on intelligence that says that #4 and #5 on the terrorist list are arming a suicide bomber in a small house in Kenya. She is in London; the drone operators are in Las Vegas; the pilot with a serious conscience (Aaron Paul) is airborne. Their arguments unfold through a multinational telephone hierarchy. Those conversations show us the confusion that attends the deadly new science and the attendant politics. Who will take responsibility for giving the final go ahead? We are in the new world of war.

Their mission: confirm identity, decide between capture and kill, obtain legal clearance, and guess at civilian casualties and collateral damage. All of this will unfold in a country that is not our enemy and for which there are no rules of engagement. The confusion comes to the audience in a high tension handoff by actors who convey the unique challenges of the new warfare. And then the inconceivable new ingredient: if they make the wrong decision will it hand a propaganda victory to the terrorists on YouTube?

The cast does a fine job of grappling with the emotional, political and moral implications of modern warfare. Helen Mirren, ice cold and grand as the Colonel, knows what must be done but her eyes show inner conflict. Aaron Paul touches our hearts. Director Gavin Hood implants troubling questions that linger.

Does the new face of war include the right to blow up a building in a country that is not our enemy? Will remote warfare mean fewer casualties for the bombers and the bombed because it can be targeted? Is there no chance at all of finding an alternative for international disputes in an era that promises eventual nuclear annihilation? How long before a terrorist hits us with this kind of a drone bomb? As is our custom, we invented it and used it first, but it will come back at us before long. This is a gripping thriller that plants the seeds of future trouble.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Eye in the Sky
Word count : 497
Studio : Sony Pictures Classics
Running time : 1:40
Rating : R

 

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Great Actor, Wrong Medium

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Tina Fey is an elegant, accomplished comedienne who has created a national treasure with her take-offs on Sarah Palin. Her capture this year of Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump left the national TV audience chuckling with delight. She is a major talent perfectly suited to the sharp bursts that propel television whether in a series or popping up on the news. That’s both the triumph and the problem.

Is it possible that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, fails because Fey and her collaborator, screenwriter Robert Carlock, are operating in a medium rooted in entirely different timing? Because the film never achieves a sum of its parts, it feels fractured throughout – as if it were being filmed for television in a series of shots.

Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is a bored, desk-bound reporter writing news copy. Craving action and free to look for it, she heads for Afghanistan where she is plunged into the alcohol and sex fueled culture of Americans dropped into the chaos of wartime in a foreign land. Kim meets Tanya (Margo Robbie), a sophisticated competitor, Fahim (Christopher Abbott), an Afghan protector, Scottish photographer Iain (Martin Freeman), Alfred Molina as the Afghan attorney general, and the American general (Billy Bob Thornton) who makes her promise not to sleep with any of his men.

These are the characters who rise from the din of the far-from-home community, and only Christopher Abbott as Kim’s protector draws our interest. Personal episodes alternate with battle explosions and environmental filth while Kim navigates the bedlam bravely. Now and then – as when she understands the consequences of not being covered from head to foot in public – she delivers a genuine sense of understanding and fear. Otherwise, we watch the unfolding of explosions and danger that are photographed beautifully but rarely fit the script. The constant switching between Afghanistan’s war torn landscape and the alcohol soaked gatherings of ex-pats seems contrived.

The sight of Tina Fey striding through the turmoil with dignity and perfect makeup on her journey from office boredom to successful war correspondent leaves us in a state of confusion. It’s unfortunate that the story Fey and Carlock want to tell – of Afghanistan as the forgotten battlefield deep in the shadow of the Iraq war works well but is nearly erased by the off duty politics.

Because the movie is filmed expertly, we have become more interested in Kim’s navigating the treatment of women in the Afghan culture than in a bored American copywriter’s desire to advance as a war correspondent. Ironically, when the script shifts to her eventual professional success stateside, we lose interest.

Because Fey is a brilliant observer of her own country’s foibles, we keep waiting for punchlines that never come. It can’t be all bad to be so good at seeing to the heart of human imperfection that audiences can’t accept you in a two hour movie. May Tina Fey reign as master of short bursts of observation in that other medium.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Title : Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Word count : 497
Distributor : Paramount Pictures
Running time : 1:51
Rating : R

 

This review was posted on March 13, 2016, in Comedy, War.