By: Oberst von Berauscht (A Toast) –
In an office in Sussex, England Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is overseeing a clandestine operation via video conference. She is speaking with a conference room in London peopled by Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) as well as several legal and political figures, who are there to provide clearance for the operation. Powell is also in communication with the Las Vegas-based pilots of a Drone providing her and the London office with live video of the operation. The drone pilots are the titular Eye in the Sky…
The operation is taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, where agents on the ground are observing a meeting between terrorist leaders. When the meeting they are observing reveals the presence of suicide vests, with the imminent threat of an attack on civilians now a possibility, Powell suggests launching a missile strike via the drone. But there are civilians in the area, who may be impacted by the attack. With time of the essence, the rules of engagement are put to the test as everyone in the room debates the action.
Eye in the Sky casts a critical eye towards the lines of communication that occur in the decision to launch a drone attack. As the debate continues, they each have to run every decision up the chain. The bureaucratic insanity almost reaches the point of dark satire, were it not for the consequences that their decisions deal with.
Eye in the Sky explores the moral ambiguity of the War on Terror from the cold numbers games that are played to the bizarre remove that all the players are from the reality of the situation. Everyone involved pretends that they fully grasp the situation, but sitting behind a TV screen doesn’t do justice to the people on ground, and the civilians caught in-between. Moral high-ground in armed conflict is an oxymoron.
The cast of Eye in the Sky is uniformly excellent; as the operation commander, Helen Mirren is cold and matter-of-fact, and totally committed to her actions. If she had the trigger in her hands, she’d pull it without a second thought. Alan Rickman, in one of his final screen performances, is a put-upon General whose job has devolved into convincing waffling politicians and skittish bureaucrats of the tactical reasons to support the drone strike. Those not in uniform are less interested in the fact that the strike can kill civilians, and more in the political ramifications of one decision or another. Agents on the ground observing in person have a unique viewpoint to the operation, and yet the least say in what happens, despite having cool gadgets like mini-drones controlled by smart phones.
In one of the most disturbing scenes in the film, it is explained to a Parliamentary Minister that the propaganda war favors waiting for the terrorists to use their suicide vests, because the chance of a drone strike killing civilians would be more difficult to paint in a pro-Western light.
Aaron Paul is particularly strong in Eye in the Sky as the pilot who ultimately has the trigger in his hands. It doesn’t matter what decisions are made from on-high, he is the one who makes that final, deadly choice. Paul’s character is shown to be a college graduate who took the Air Force career as a way to get out of debt, and is totally out of his element when he is faced with the orders to fire, knowing it could result in more than just a few dead terrorists.
Director Gavin Hood hasn’t exactly had the best track record of recent, with his last two movies both being box office and critical busts (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender’s Game). Hood proves with Eye in the Sky that his skills as a filmmaker weren’t the problem with those films. Eye in the Sky is a tightly crafted, suspenseful story that gets a lot of excitement out of what is essentially a series of intercut discussions about the use of Drone warfare on a civilian population.
Eye in the Sky is the kind of military/political thriller that points out the utter absurdity and unending grey areas faced in modern day warfare. It would be humorous if it didn’t directly affect the lives of so many people.
Eye in the Sky (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: anytime a decision is referred up the chain
Take a Drink: when you’re reminded of the remove that everyone involved is from the reality on the ground.
Do a Shot: whenever Bread is mentioned
Take a Drink: for gung-ho attitude from American bureaucrats
Do a Shot: when the everyday reality of this sinks in