My Rating: 8.5 out of 10
This was a film that nearly went under my radar, but I’m so glad that it didn’t and that I was able to see it in theaters! Eye in the Sky is a story that takes place within the span of a couple hours. Thus, most of the action occurring onscreen is in real time with very little time being skipped (if any at all). The film takes a close look at the reality of drone warfare in order to drive home the cost of such modern techniques to combat terrorism abroad. For this reason alone, I believe the film is one that most people should see even if the subject matter upsets them or they believe that drone warfare is completely necessary. But with political messages aside, the film is tightly crafted, well-written, engaging, suspenseful, and chock full of wonderful actors and actresses doing top-notch jobs.
The plot of Eye in the Sky is simple, but the questions it brings up are complex. There is a known terrorist group in a residential area in Kenya. The British military (working with American drone pilots) need to decide on the best method to capture said terrorists, however when it becomes clear through surveillance on the ground that the group is planning a suicide bombing, the British must decide whether or not to fire missiles at the home. The area is filled largely with extremists, but the terrorist’s hideout is next to a marketplace where there are average citizens trying to make money. Without giving away the ending, the British politicians and military brass must work with American drone pilots and Kenyan spies to ensure the safety of civilians in the area while preparing to bomb the terrorists.
To drive a little deeper into the political side of this film, I thought it was very interesting to see just how many people are required to make determinations on drone strikes. The web of command in this film (which I’d imagine is accurate) was scattered throughout multiple countries, multiple sectors of government (military and political), and didn’t really have one person in charge of the whole situation. Drones aren’t controlled by a single guy with a trigger and a camera, there are dozens of people involved. I also thought it was a good choice to have the incident in question one that was being dealt with by the British instead of the Americans, as it allowed for more disagreement between those involved. As seen in the film, whenever the Americans were deferred to about the legality and morality of launching an attack, they always responded with disregard for the people on the ground and seemed bothered that the British would even waste their time with such questions.
With that said, one of the greatest strengths of the film was that there was no real good answer when it came to the morality of drone strikes. It was obvious that the filmmakers were probably more anti-drone in their position that not, but the importance of drone strikes in situations such as this one were not at all downplayed. When being compared to a mass suicide bombing where dozens would die, the death of a couple innocent civilians starts to seem slightly less horrific. The film did an excellent job portraying of this difficulty and showing a spectrum of opinions with some military members being fervently in favor of a strike (merely worried about legal ramifications) and some military and political figures being more neutral or in favor of getting the civilians out of the way before launching a strike. However, those in favor of the strike clearly wanted to minimize casualties by preventing a massive bombing while the politician most against the strike admitted herself that they should let the bombing happen since it is better for propaganda to say that a terrorist group killed dozens of civilians instead of saying that an industrial nation killed a couple innocent people.
There was no right answer in the end and I think that is the most realistic way of looking at the situation. Drone warfare is a nuanced dilemma with serious pros and serious cons. By viewing it from a polarized political standpoint, you lose perspective on the entirety of the situation. In a sense, this film provided the audience with a metaphorical bird’s eye view of the entire scope of the situation and really helped drive home that things aren’t as cut and dry as we’d like them to be. The filmmakers clearly made certain choices to show the bad side of drone attacks, such as making the drone pilots recent college grads looking for some easy money and fully unprepared for the horrors of war. But they never tried to push an agenda on the audience. This approach along with the phenomenal team of actors and actresses made the film very realistic and powerful. I went mainly to see Alan Rickman (as this is his second to last film), but I was blown away by the performances of Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul, as well as Barkhad Abdi who was just as good as he was in Captain Phillips.
While it may not be a film that everyone would want to see in theaters, it is one that will make you leave the theatre with a lot to think about. The more we understand about the world and about the political policies that our nations put into place, the more we can become active citizens in the world. Films like Eye in the Sky do not provide the answers to tough questions, but they bring the tough questions into focus and allow us as educated people to think about them and try to come to some kind of solution together.