When the words ‘drone warfare’ are mentioned, they conjure up images in most of us of sleek remote-piloted aircraft raining down death from above in a manner that seems psychotically impersonal.
Those outside the military would probably believe that the distance a drone places between its pilot and its target creates a kind of amoral vacuum in which targets on a screen are shorn of any trace of humanity. A blob is found. A button is pressed. A bomb is dropped. A blob disappears. No one real actually dies.
Eye In The Sky works hard to restore humanity to the above exchange. In a plot that sees the action cut from Nairobi, to Nevada to London, Eye In The Sky zeroes in on the constant tussle between pragmatism and morality that hangs over the decision to pull the trigger in a situation fraught with tension.
The set up is brutally simple; in the wake of a terrorist bombing in Nairobi by al-Shabaab, intelligence reports tip Western forces on the location of three key members of the group. This kicks starts a series of discussions and arguments between various allied forces over whether or not to aim to capture the three targets in question, or simply to kill them with a drone strike. It doesn’t help that the three are located smack bang in a residential area.
Eye In The Sky is mainly concerned with examining the moral conundrums facing those tasked with making ‘hard choices’; this movie’s main draw isn’t the technology – the drones, the surveillance satellites or the spy gadgets (such as a remote controlled camera shaped like a beetle) take a back seat. All the tech is set dressing for a political thriller as rooms filled with military personnel and politicians weigh up the cost of striking a blow against terrorist against collateral damage and political fallout.
There are no clear-cut, snap decisions; the British military need to consult a lawyer to make sure they’re not committing a war crime, and then assess the risk to make sure that the fewest civilians are hurt. They then need to obtain a greenlight on the mission from their US allies – who are in control of the drones they need to deploy. Politicians and spin doctors are then added to the mix.
And then a little girl enters the blast zone and the risk calculations need to be run again and the process starts over.
British heavy-weights Dame Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman form the strong core here as British military personnel battling for mission clearance with politicos and each other. Aaron Paul adds some humanity as a conflicted drone pilot none-to-eager to initiate a strike that could kill a child.
Directed by Gavin Hood of Tsotsi and, er, The Wolverine fame, Eye In The Sky moves at a pretty decent pace and manages to feel cohesive and engrossing in spite of its bare bones plot and globe-trotting backdrop. It’s a slow boil, to be sure, but the tension it ratchets up will likely have even the odd Michael Bay fan on the edge of their seat.
Verdict Eye in the Sky is definitely not what we expected, but it’s extremely compelling nonetheless 75%