Try to imagine a movie that could make you want to blow up a perfectly innocent, absolutely adorable little girl. Try to conceive a set of circumstances in which such an action might be acceptable to you. And then, after deciding such a thing is beyond possibility, go see Eye in the Sky for an education in modern warfare.
Directed by Gavin Hood and written by Guy Hibbert, Eye in the Sky deals with the ethical questions surrounding the use of drones. At least half of the film depicts people staring at screens and arguing about what to do and somehow this makes for intense drama. Add into that it features Helen Mirren at her icy best and Alan Rickman, who is outstanding in his last on-screen performance, and that should be enough to recommend it.
Mirren plays a British colonel working for military intelligence, who has been tracking various terrorists for several years. Now some of the most dangerous, ranking members of this terrorist organization – think ISIS or Al Qaeda – are going to be in the same house in Kenya. And so she coordinates with Kenyan officials on the scene and with the Americans, who have the eyes in the sky, drones capable of following the terrorists’ movements.
All is going according to plan for about 15 minutes, when the terrorists go off to another house, in the middle of a district that can’t be invaded by police. The house is in a part of town run by the terrorists, and any attempt to make an arrest would result in a horrible battle, with lots of civilian casualties and the very real possibility of the lead terrorists getting away. So what starts off as an arrest plan becomes a different plan altogether – to use a hellfire missile, fired from a drone, to blow up the terrorists in the house.
The film takes place in several areas of activity. The Colonel (Mirren) heads the command center, and she is ready to blow up half the world to get these terrorists, one in particular. Alan Rickman, as a General, sits in a boardroom with politicians, trying to persuade them to allow the drone strike. And Aaron Paul is the bombardier, controling the drone from a console somewhere in the United States.
Though Paul’s scenes are played straight, the idea of Aaron Paul as a bombardier is actually funny if you think about it. This is an actor who specializes in characters who do terrible things and then feel horribly guilty afterward. Thus, he spends half of Eye in the Sky with his eyes filling with tears and his face frozen and throbbing with misery. He has the kind of sensitivity that would be valued in a friend, although the thought of an American army full of guys like Paul would be pretty terrifying.
In contrast with the drama of Paul’s scenes, Hibbert combines drama with black comedy in the boardroom interludes. That’s a tone that Rickman understood instinctively and played expertly, never losing the drama while injecting shadings of comedy. Watching the timid British officials do their best to avoid making decisions evokes both humor and frustration. From an American perspective, it’s also amusing that on two occasions U.S. government officials make an appearance, and they are portrayed as having none of the reticence of their British colleagues.
Eye in the Sky is refreshing in its lack of a political message. Mirren is chilling as the cold-blooded colonel, but her point of view is more than understandable, even justifiable, just as Paul’s reluctant soldier is both right and wrong, as well. In a situation in which a good option does not exist, the choice is only between degrees of bad, and so it’s impossible for anyone to be entirely right. The moral discussion in Eye in the Sky amounts to various people deciding which variety of culpability they can live with. It’s an awful place to be, and the movie puts us where we already were and didn’t quite know it – right in there with them.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Angelika Plano
Eye in the Sky
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman and Aaron Paul
Running time: 102 min,