When people talk about modern warfare, it tends to be in rather black and white terms. It’s either people concerned about collateral damage who tend to ignore the moral quagmire that killing a few innocent people may end up saving many more, or the more gung-ho attitude that ignores the guiltless that get caught up in it. Eye In The Sky attempts to explore the grey areas.
In Nairobi, a British and American task force are tracking some Islamic extremist terrorists, but are mainly doing so from afar, using drones controlled from the US and other tech piloted by a local (Barkhad Abdi) on the ground. They discover that three of their most wanted targets are together in a house. However, plans to capture them quickly change to the need for a possible kill-strike, when they realise there are bomb belts in the house and a suicide attack is imminent. Things get even more complex when a young girl enters the kill zone and they realise a strike is likely to kill her.
Is it okay to kill an innocent child if it saves scores more from a suicide attack? As well as looking at the moral implications, the film also discusses the political and propaganda sides, as well as the different needs and perspectives of those in the ‘kill chain’ – the group of people who ultimately decide the rules of engagement and whether to launch a strike.
Playing out in real time, Eye In The Sky focuses on four groups of people. Firstly, there’s the house and its immediate environment in Nairobi, where the terrorists are meeting. In the US two drone pilots (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox) sit awaiting orders. They know that if a strike is called they will be the ones who press the button that send the missile on its way, even though they’re thousands of mile away.
In charge of the military side is British Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), who pulls in all the information, including the blast radius and the likelihood that a strike will kill the child. Then there’s Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), who sits with a group of British politicians. Due to the implications of collateral damage and launching an unannounced strike on a friendly country, it’s the politicians who have the final say, and they have more concerns than just the moral and strategic aspects.
It’s a smart and tense movie, which may have to use a fair degree of contrivance to set up a situation where it can explore the complex situation around modern warfare. It certainly does a good job of suggesting that things are far more complex than the simplified version we see on TV, and that it can be easy for people sat at home in their armchairs to have opinions about what the military should and shouldn’t be doing, but that in the real world it’s murky and complex, and seemingly impossible decisions have to be made.
It takes a pretty neutral approach to the rights and wrongs, showing that none of the decisions those involved might make could exactly be called ‘good’, and that in circumstances like the one shown, inaction could make you more culpable than killing someone. It’s also very aware that while modern technology can give us incredible knowledge of what is going on from afar, that knowledge can be a double-edged sword. After all, if they didn’t know there were bomb belts in the house, the decisions would be much simpler.
After the colossal mess that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it looked like director Gavin Hood’s career might have come to a premature end. While Ender’s Game probably didn’t help his cause, Eye In The Sky reignites the promise the South African filmmaker showed with the Oscar-winning Tsotsi. While he takes things a little far at times, particularly pushing things towards melodrama at times, mostly he holds things together extremely well.
It’s certainly not a movie for people who like simple tales with clear-cut goodies and baddies, as there may be definite bad guys, but the ‘good guys’ don’t have easy decisions to make and no matter what they do, you’re likely to be considering the issues after the credits roll.
Overall Verdict: Taking a sharp look at the complicated decisions that have to be made in modern warfare, Eye In The Sky is a tense watch.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac