I Spy in the Sky an Eye on the Moral Ambiguity of Modern Warfare



How quickly can things escalate?  How much bureaucratic red-tape, coordination with allies and “referring-up” (where the political ramifications are cynically weighed with the moral implications) needs to happen before a decision can be made?  What is the human price of preemptive strikes against known terrorists?  These are the questions weighing heavily in the razor-sharp new thriller, Eye in the Sky.

Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren), who commands a drone squad surveying Kenya and other spots in the horn of Africa, wakes up one day to find three of the top ten terrorists on the East African most wanted list have gathered in a suburban home in the middle of a militia occupied neighborhood.  The original orders from higher up (led by a Alan Rickman in one of his final roles) were to survey and capture (one of the terrorists is a British citizen), but that’s too dangerous with the militiamen around.  When a bug-drone confirms they are preparing suicide vests inside, Powell pounds the drums to kill.  But when an innocent girl selling bread in the market area outside the house enters the kill zone, things get even more complicated and everyone (and I mean everyone…at one point the British Foreign Minister is rung-up while he’s on the toilet with food poisoning in Singapore) must weigh in before the strike can be executed. Continue reading

Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation

Hollywood has done a bang up job over the years telling the story of young men destroyed by wars.  Some might argue it’s been their bread and butter.  Occasionally there have been poignant child’s-eye-views of war, from the profane (Come and See) to the romanticized and sentimental (Hope and Glory).  But what happens when the children are the soldiers?  Hardly new in our human history, but always horrific and tragic, Beasts of No Nation (from the novel inspired by grim reality from Uzodinma Iweala) shows us what happens when children become warriors and delivers a first-hand account of one such child Agu (Abraham Atta) in an unnamed present-day African nation torn apart by civil war.  The harrowing experience seems more at home on the written page (which for some reason always allows for easier digestion of the inhumane aspects of humanity), but in the hands of Cary Joji Fukunaga (acclaimed filmmaker of such varied fare as Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre and the first season of True Detective), the story demands a visual chronicle.

When you’re the guy best known for that unforgettable tracking shot of the McConaissance traveling through a ghetto Bayou hellscape in a drug raid for the ages, you better deliver when you become your own cinematographer on your next film.  Filling the duties of producer, director, co-screenwriter and cinematographer, Fukunaga, for anyone who wasn’t sold on his talent already, arrives here as advertised and announces himself as one of the major new forces to be reckoned with in cinema.  Capturing atmospheric images of beauty and horror and raw human drama, Fukunaga (aided by Dan Romer’s music score) nails the technical aspects of the film.  His sure hand thus allows his cast – lead by the amateur Atta who perfectly captures the essence of a child soldier making you sympathize, fear and ultimately empathize, and anchored by a volcanic Idris Elba in an Oscar-worthy supporting turn as the vile Commandant who recruits and leads the children into guerilla warfare – nail the emotional aspects of the story. Continue reading

Crazy White People

Would you like some coffee with your civil war?

Claire Denis is one of the most renowned and prolific female directors in world cinema, but her films are known by few outside of urbane critics and religious patrons of the art houses.  Her surprisingly heartfelt slice-of-life piece about multiethnic Parisians, 35 Shots of Rum, probably would’ve made my top ten list last year had I seen it in time and is a film that deserved a wider audience.  Her latest, the frustratingly non-humanist White Material, isn’t about to win over any new fans or stir up any kind of decent business.  But it will have plenty of people talking.

In an unnamed African country, civil war has broken out.  Isabelle Huppert plays Marie, a French woman who runs a coffee plantation and refuses to leave amidst the anarchy and danger, even after French soldiers beg her and her family to evacuate and all of her laborers abandon their work to flee.  Determined to bring the latest crop in, she hires a weary group of day laborers while her family falls apart and a notorious rebel leader, wounded and hunted, finds refuge in her home. 

Giving the film no historical context is a bit frustrating, but Denis, who has her own tenuous ties to the continent, seems to indicate this could be “Anywhere Africa” and what she displays — the ailing after effects of colonialism, the brutality of civil wars, the inhumanity of using children as soldiers, and the rampant anarchy of a land full of “hot air” is a hellish portrait of her former home. Continue reading

A Review of Edward Zwick’s “Blood Diamond”

This is Africa?, 26 December 2006
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

An Edward Zwick film always reeks of quality. Think of his “Courage Under Fire,” the first big film to address the Gulf War, or the Tom Cruise starer “The Last Samurai.” Both were very good films, but didn’t quite reach the epic status they seemed to be aiming for. Zwick commonly has compelling stories with big stars and a big budget…but his films are always missing that special something–the visceral jolt or that artistic flair that separate the good movies from the great movies. “Blood Diamond” tries very hard to be a pulse-pounding and heart wrenching political thriller in the vein of last year’s “The Constant Gardner,” but in its earnest and noble attempt to bring to life the plight of Africans involved in the mining and smuggling of diamonds, it falls short.

The writers deserve credit for trying to highlight so many compelling tangents of this hot-button story that touches on price gouging, corporate “funding” of civil war, enslavement of native Africans in their own land, and the brutal indoctrination of child armies by radical rebel forces. Zwick, always competent staging a tense battle scene and realistic violence, unfortunately directs everything else in a pedestrian manner that hinders the inherent compelling nature of the plot. An uninspired music score and two false endings don’t help.

The superb cast helps keep things slightly off kilter and interesting for the audience. Leonardo DiCaprio as the suddenly conscious-stricken diamond smuggler has become one of those uber-stars who is always better than expected in spite of himself. He sports and unidentifiable accent (is it supposed to be a Zimbabwe accent, or someone from Zimbabwe doing a bad impression of a South African accent?) that isn’t as nearly distracting as it was in the previews for the film. Following his masterful turn in “The Departed”, Leo has somehow managed to wipe away his pretty-boy image and become a very reliable man’s-man actor-intense and brooding and ready for action. It’s also nice to see the stunning Jennifer Connelly in a role other than that of a tortured middle class woman with dark secrets. She’s underused here as the wily reporter looking to make a difference with her “big story,” but her always slightly subversive line readings are effortlessly enticing, and she’s become one of those rare actresses who looks even sexier as she ages. To round out the ensemble, there’s Djimon Hounsou, always riveting in his typecast role of a passionate and angry African willing to do anything for his family.

“Blood Diamond” is ultimately one of those movies that is greater to talk about than actually sit through. It has some fine performances and a compelling story that gives much food for thought, but isn’t as well executed as it should be. Like all Zwick films, it has a brain and a keen eye, but its heart seems strangely insincere.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database