Eye in the Sky stars Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell, a UK-based military officer in command of a top secret drone operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. Through remote surveillance and on-the-ground intel, Powell discovers the targets are planning a suicide bombing and the mission escalates from “capture” to “kill.” But as American pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is about to engage, a nine-year old girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute, reaching the highest levels of US and British government, over the moral, political, and personal implications of modern warfare.
In the Terminator series, the first models developed were called “Hunter/Killers”; unmanned, airborne drones. It’s deeply frightening to see science fiction become the new face of modern warfare. Drones are the new front-line tool in the war on terrorism. They’re not just military-owned. The FAA requires all privately owned drones to be registered (and we all know perfectly well not all of them are), but the tally early this year was over 325,000. That’s in the United States alone. Amazon is looking into a drone fleet to aid in even faster commercial deliveries. Recent polls show the American public is okay with drones being used by domestic police, but are troubled by the explosion in private ownership. But, let’s be honest, the drones we’re most troubled by are those being used by military forces around the world to carry out assassinations. I’m sorry, “precision military strikes on high-value targets”. Does that sit better with you? Eye in the Sky is a taut, gut-wrenching examination of one mission to carry out a strike on terrorists by a joint British/US/Kenyan team. It’s a hypothetical situation, but how many like it take place every day around the world?
Director Gavin Hood has come a long way from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Hood expertly balances the perspectives of the politicians sitting in a conference room, the military command in both the UK and US, and on-the-ground assets in Kenya. Hood also has a small role in the film as the leader of the US drone strike team. The perspectives and arguments behind whether or not to pull the trigger in this scenario are balanced. You can see the merit behind each argument and the toll it takes on people in shirts and ties deciding whether a little girl living or dying is worth the cost of taking four suicide bombers off the board with all the death they could cause. Mirren is fantastic as always, Aaron Paul plays the drone pilot with his finger on the trigger and this is by far the best role he’s had since Breaking Bad, and this is also the late Alan Rickman’s final live-action performance as he plays the ranking military officer on the UK side of operations. Most of the film is a display of terrifyingly potent technology depicting the fluid situation on the ground in Kenya, and the moral and practical debate of going forward with the strike.
Eye in the Sky isn’t just a well-made, entertaining film; it’s the kind of film I wish was more prevalent in this day and age. It examines an issue that is of paramount importance to every citizen of the world, whether they realize it or not. We live in a post-privacy age. Big Brother is no longer a concept, it’s national policy. The terrifyingly arbitrary metrics used to judge acceptable collateral damage, the concern with legal coverage, and all the dozens of variables that go into making one of these kill calls is both fascinating and deeply troubling. Where is the oversight? At what point does the human cost of war become removed when it’s conducted by laptops, conference calls, and glorified flight simulators? These aren’t just entertaining notions that make a good film and a good story, they are some of the most critical questions of our age. Eye in the Sky is a film that everyone should see, not just because it’s a good movie, but because it just might educate you as to the world in which we now live.