A few recent films have attempted tackling the moral implications of using drones for military use, but none have done so as effectively as the taut, suspenseful new film Eye in the Sky (opening today).
Drone use – for attack and for reconnaissance – defines modern warfare, but as a result of being a less “personal” military strategy, many feel that it has removed the human element from our thoughts and minds. Without the risk of “boots on the ground,” our leaders may be more willing to use force by way of drone, as a drone operator carries out the killings and bombings from behind the safety of a TV screen from thousands of miles away. Video game violence and real violence blurs to an unprecedented degree.
Aaron Paul (from Breaking Bad) plays one such drone operator, an American soldier working with a coalition led by British Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren). They have located a high-ranking terrorist in Kenya and they look to bomb the hell out of him, as the current circumstance presents them with a rare opportunity to take him out. A moral dilemma develops when a little girl enters the blast-zone.
With Colonel Powell urging her superiors to take action, we see the complexities of using such technology. On the highest levels of government, British Lt. General Frank Benson (the wonderful Alan Rickman, in his final on-screen role) is involved in the decision-making, as all parties weigh their options and try to minimize collateral damage.
Director Gavin Hood creates a tense, high-brow, effective thriller by focusing more on what could happen as opposed to what actually happens on screen. It’s a wonder that I was on the edge of my seat throughout the film, despite many scenes just consisting of people staring worriedly at monitors or TV screens.
But the very first shot metaphorically speaks to the film’s over-riding message: A camera in the sky focuses in on a child playing ball in their backyard in a small village…then the camera slowly pulls out and out and out, until we lose sight of the individuals and only see the big picture. Or in other not-so-subtle words, it suggests how drone use fails to take into account the individual lives at stake, since those using the drones are often only serving the grander scheme of things.
From a different perspective the “Eye in the Sky” has some religious undertones – if you believe in that sort of thing – as an unseen eye from above watches and judges our actions, and our choices. It slyly even shows the differences in cultural attitudes toward the subject: With the Brits all up-in-arms over the potential killing of innocents, the American government in the film seems much less bothered.
All of these issues are handled very well, so there are plenty of deep themes to chew on. But even on the surface, Eye in the Sky works as an escapist action thriller.
Not losing sight of the film’s own message – about taking into account the individuals and not losing sight of that – there are a few human touches given to our characters that brings all of these things together. We are shown, for example, Alan Rickman’s character on the phone as he tries to pick out a birthday gift for his daughter. At the film’s end, when everything has now transpired, we see this gift brought up again. It illustrates the impossibility of these people’s jobs, and the weight they carry. The point is driven home when Aaron Paul’s character – after what he had just been through – leaves for the night, and in so many words says, “see you tomorrow.” The hell of this one day in real life, is unfortunately not over when the credit’s roll.
Eye In the Sky will be remembered as being Alan Rickman’s last on-screen roll (his voice is still upcoming in a few animated features), but for the real-life issues it hits upon, it will be remembered for far more than that. In fact, it’s a film not easily forgotten.
Genre: Drama, War, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam
Directed by Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Rendition, Totsi, A Reasonable Man)
Opens locally on Friday, March 25, 2016 (check for show times).