I’ll be your Eye in the Sky, then we’ll sail away to Key Largo

Movies watched:  Eye in the Sky, Key Largo

Where watched:  Parkway Plaza 12, home

Time:  102 minutes, 101 minutes

Total elapsed time:  1 day, 7 hours, 46 minutes

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Last time I saw my son Kevin, we decided to see Eye in the Sky.  It had a short theatrical run, so we had to see it in a theater that doesn’t really show first-run major releases.  I was just glad it was still available to watch somewhere.

Eye in the Sky is a movie of our times;  it involves a British military intelligence unit, headed by the always impressive Helen Mirren.  The British are tracking some potential terrorist subjects in Kenya, and hope to arrest them if their intel proves good.   What if that intel shows that the terrorist suspects may be planning an imminent attack?  Is a drone strike, killing them all instantly, a justified use of force?  What if innocent people in the vicinity may be killed as a result?  These are the tough questions that this movie asks.

The movie devolops gradually, building to a slow burn, and takes a darkly comic turn as various diplomats on multiple continents all try to pass the buck when it is time to authorize the drone strike.   The cynic in me questions whether so much debate would ever occur, particularly in the United States, where drone strikes are the weapon du jour, used with impunity, and causing the deaths of many civilian casualties.  Of course, this is a British movie, not an American one.

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It works so well, on so many levels, because it does not appeal to maudlin sentimentality.  It is gut-wrenchingly hard to watch at times, but it feels very real. It does not moralize, or proselytize;  rather it shows the hard choices and very real consequences that result from our modern form of technological warfare, by giving a face to the faceless, those who are usually just listed as “collateral damage” in a blurb that vanishes almost as quickly as it is forgotten.

The performances are all stellar, and particularly impressive because the lead actors never worked together.  Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, and Barkhad Abdi all shot their parts of the movie separately.  The fact that they flow so seamlessly together is a testament to the great direction of Gavin Hood.  Hood may best be known for writing and directing the Oscar-winning film Tsotsi.  Since then he has directed a couple of big-budget Hollywood action movies, with mixed results.  This is arguably the best movie of his career to date.

The ending of the movie is very sobering, made all the more so with the simple dedication to the late, great Alan Rickman just before the credit roll.   Rickman could play over-the-top (his Hans Gruber was the template for every Euro-villain in every action movie of the last quarter century), and understated (revisit Sense and Sensibility if you haven’t seen it recently) equally well.  His tone of voice, and the manner in which he delivered his lines, were instantly recognizable, and unforgettable.  Rest in Peace, Alan.

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When I saw that Warner Brothers was stepping up their “Archive Collection” releases on blu-ray, I jumped at the chance to own the great Key Largo.  It sure does look fantastic in the hi-def format  It’s just a pity that Warner Bros.  isn’t taking the time to add any extra features.

Key Largo is based on a stage play, and has the feel of one, with most of the movie set in the confines of one hotel.  Humphrey Bogart plays an ex-soldier, who is paying a visit to the wife and father of one of his men, who died in combat in Italy during WWII.  The wife of the dead soldier is played by Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall, and the father is played by curmudgeonly old Lionel Barrymore.  They are the proprietors of a hotel, and what Bogart does not realize when he arrives is that there is a secret guest staying in the hotel:  a gangster named Johnny Rocco, played to perfection by Edward G. Robinson.

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Bogart’s character tries not to get involved in a conflict with Robinson and his men, even as the situation escalates.  Bogart claims, much as his character Rick said in Casablanca, that he only looks after himself.  Robinson tries to provoke him, and ultimately Bogart’s character rises to the occasion, and saves the day.   This movie is just about perfect, with John Huston directing a screenplay that he co-wrote with Richard Brooks.  This was the  fourth collaboration between Huston and Bogart,  a pairing that would become one of the most celebrated collaborations between actor and director in movie history.

The performances are stellar throughout, but a couple deserve special mention.  Of course Edward G. Robinson chewed up the scenery as he always did when in gangster mode, and Bogart was the quiet understated hero.   But it was Claire Trevor who won an Academy Award for best-supporing actress, in her role as alcoholic, over the top showgirl, who was once Johnny Rocco’s main girl.   The famous scene in which Rocco requires Claire Trevor’s character Gaye Dawn to sing for a drink, is still very powerful and moving.

Also worth mentioning is the character actor Thomas Gomez, who plays Curly, a member of Rocco’s gang.  Gomez gives a very memorable performance, one of the best in his career.  Gomez was the first ever Latino actor to receive an Oscar nomination in an acting category.

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Edward G. Robinson, center, as gangster Johnny Rocco. The great character actor Thomas Gomez is far right.

This movie is deserving of the label “classic”, with great writing, directing and performances.  If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and give it a go.  The Warner Brothers blu-ray looks fantastic.

This movie inspired a not-entirely bad  song in the early 80’s, from one hit-wonder Bertie Higgins.  I apologize for the horrific video, just remember it was 1982.  My God; the beard, the white jacket open to his midriff, the arrogant puff on the cigarette, quelle horreur!

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