There have been several films in recent years surrounding the use of military drones, and Gavin Hood’s “Eye in the Sky” treads familiar territory by asking questions that have already been asked. Are drones the future of our military? Is it an ethical move? Is collateral damage something to be worried about? Smaller-scaled films such as “Good Kill” and “Drones” explored those issues previously, and Hood’s film does the same thing. What makes “Eye in the Sky” superior to those films is the talent in front of the camera and Hood’s ability to keep the viewer engaged.
Sure, there are no clear answers, and Hood and screenwriter Guy Hibbert know that. The two craft a film that presents both sides of the issue in a fair and balanced manner. There are good and bad outcomes that can result because of the actions the characters take.
On one side of the country, we have two USAF pilots (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox) providing aerial surveillance coverage of an Al-Shabaab terrorist meeting at a safehouse in Nairobi, Kenya from their comfortable station in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, in Kenya, Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) provides coverage from the ground via short-range camera bugs.
Their mission is to capture these terrorists. But those plans get thwarted when it’s discovered the terrorists have plans to carry out suicide bombings. Now, Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), the mission’s leader who is based in England, decides that a drone strike needs to be launched. But her higher-ups, including Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman,) must determine if they want to run the risks that come with launching said strike. Benson wants to launch it; others don’t. On one hand, they can save many innocent lives. On the other, there could be collateral damage, especially when a young girl decides to set up her bread stand near the safehouse.
Like the issues it tackles, “Eye in the Sky” evenly presents all the characters involved in the film and the feelings they are dealing with as they try to reach a decision. Mirren – oftentimes playing a strong, determined character – shines as someone in a leadership role who knows the dangers of launching a drone strike, as well as the dangers of not launching one. She’s scared and also a little peeved, and the viewer can feel her character’s emotions as she debates with those against her decision.
“Eye in the Sky” is presented in a sort of real-time fashion, getting the viewer deeply invested into the action as it unfolds. Should the drone be launched or should it not? Tensions run high, and the film doesn’t ease up. Hood and Hibbert have crafted a film that is as gripping as it is intelligent.
In his final onscreen role, Rickman is Oscar-worthy as the lieutenant general who understands the risks of carrying out a decision as difficult as the one presented to him. He knows there are those who will disagree with him, and he doesn’t step back from his viewpoint. His final monologue about what a military man knows of war is a gut punch, exquisitely delivered with sheer fire power. It’s a reminder of how much of an impact he made on cinema during his varied and incredible career.