EXCLUSIVE: Eye in the Sky — the drama about drone strikes — is so timely that distributor Bleecker Street is using President Barack Obama’s speech about the new technology as the voice-over for the film’s TV spot, which is debuting tonight during the Republican debate (watch it above). How? Insiders said the President’s speech is considered public domain now as it has been referred to and repeated so many times.
Eye in the Sky, one of the last films with the late Alan Rickman, will be released Friday, and the timing couldn’t have been more coincidental. The powerful film from director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) and writer Guy Hibbert is a nail-biter as characters argue over the rules of engagement and the legality and morality of war in making a decision about a drone strike in Kenya that targets the Al-Shabaab militant group. The eOne Features film mirrors what happened just this week in Somalia, when the U.S. military killed 150 Islamist Al-Shabaab militants in strikes carried out in part by drones.
The film, also starring Helen Mirren and Barkhad Abdi, is one of the few movies — Fruitvale Station comes to mind — that allows the audience to come to know victims before tragedy strikes, giving high value to a single life; in this case, it’s a little girl selling bread who’s in danger of becoming “collateral damage.” However improbable, it pits the cold mind of the military establishment against the morality of (wait for it) politicians. Of course, it doesn’t take place in this country. The commanders are properly British.
There have been other films that unwittingly imitated real life. For instance, after the 2012 Aurora theater massacre during the midnight showing of Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight Rises (where my cousin was murdered along with 11 others), the same studio was readying to release the period mob film Gangster Squad. In one of the scenes, mobsters killed people in a movie theater by shooting into the audience in the same way the shooter did in Aurora.
The studio pulled the film’s trailer, excised the scene and filmed new footage to replace that scene “out of respect for the families,” it said. In reality, it was doubtful a nation of moviegoers would have the stomach for it at the box office — especially releasing the film in a time period where there had been five mass shootings (Aurora, Oak Creek, Milwaukee, Clackamas and Newtown).
For Eye in the Sky, however, Bleecker Street also couldn’t be more surprised that life is imitating its art. The film has suddenly becomes a ripped-from-the-headlines story.
In 1997, then-President Clinton lodged a complaint with Warner Bros over the use of his press conference comments about a Mars meteorite being found “as one of the most stunning insights into our universe that science has ever uncovered.” The snippet was inserted into a scene in the Robert Zemeckis-directed Contact to make it look he was talking about messages from aliens. In that instance, however, the president was upset because his words were taken out of context.
In this case, the bits used for the TV spot are mainly pulled from Obama’s speech to the National Defense University about drone strikes and terrorism. Another part appears to be from a Military Academy speech, and the last one about the world we leave to our children is used in at least two speeches, one about drones and one about climate change.
Eye in the Sky was several years in the making and in one of its incarnations had Oliver Hirschbiegel on board to direct. The eOne and Raindog Films project eventually ended up with helmer Hood with Colin Firth (also a producer) attached to star. However, Firth ended up only producing, with the final incarnation starring Rickman. The highly suspenseful film premiered in Toronto to critical raves and a standing ovation. That led to a three-way bidding war that Bleecker Street won in a deal worth more than $2 million.
Bleecker Street is platforming the release this weekend, which is sure to receive a high CinemaScore and enjoy positive word-of-mouth to carry the film through to when it goes nationwide on April 1. It will get an international bow later this spring.
Eye in the Sky is also produced by Ged Doherty and David Lancaster (formerly of Bold Films).