War of the Machines

Nuanced Eye In The Sky movie gets drone warfare right

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Eye in the Sky
RPL Film Theatre
4 out of 5

Up to this point, military drone movies have been a snooze. Ethical issues get buried under low-stake operations while poor actors try to emote in front of a pretend radar (see a weepy Ethan Hawke in Good Kill).

Eye in the Sky director Gavin Hood (we ran an interview with him a few issues back) solves this problem by allowing the tension between each player involved in the operation to emerge organically. In this particular case, the objective is to neutralize a vicious terrorist cell in Nairobi. The mission involves British, American and Kenyan military forces, with political authorities just a phone call away. They all have a say in what transpires, making progress excruciatingly slow.

Soon it becomes clear the extremists are planning an imminent suicide attack, a circumstance that not only raises the stakes, but puts all the involved in an impossible conundrum: is the death of a 10-year old bystander justifiable if dozens of other lives are saved?

Eye in the Sky takes us to every single war room, from the foot soldiers holed in a van in Kenya (represented by Capitan Philips’ Barkhad Abdi) to the heart of London, where attorneys and generals led by Alan Rickman discuss the legality of bombing the hiding place. The all-encompassing narrative also includes a steely operational chief (Helen Mirren), a reluctant drone pilot (Aaron Paul), ineffectual political figures and a poor kid who walks straight into the kill zone. Under time constrainsts, tempers flare and frank discussions about collateral damage take place.

Gavin Hood does a great job ramping up the tension while presenting every position fairly. This approach transfers the ethical burden to the audience, already in pins and needles over the little girl at the center of the intrigue. Here’s the very rare war film that embraces complexity. I’ll take that any day over evil garbage like, say, American Sniper or Lone Survivor.