How do you quantify a life?
Is the life of one worth less than the life of many?
Should one person be allowed to dictate who lives and who dies?
If no laws are broken, does it make an action right?
To some, these questions are a struggle to answer. To others, the answers are obvious. Eye in the Sky is full of both types of people. It also doesn’t present a definitive answer to any of these questions. What differentiates Eye in the Sky from other modern war films is that it isn’t afraid to say that no one wins a war. It also doesn’t glorify spectacle.
In an era where law cannot keep up with technology, the world has become the wild west, with drones replacing guns and cowboy hats. Eye in the Sky takes advantage of this and chronicles how a UK-US military operation led by Colonel Kathrine Powell (Helen Mirren) to capture wanted terrorists in Kenya develops into a lethal drone strike when the terrorists are found with explosives. The legality of the situation gets even murkier when the US Air Force drone pilot (Aaron Paul) notices a civilian, a young girl, selling bread within range of the strike.
This film is all about tension. Will the terrorists get away? Will the strike be approved? Most important of all, will this innocent girl make it out unharmed? Despite the film’s surprisingly quiet nature, audiences will be fixated by what they’re seeing. The film mostly consists of scenes where people are staring at screens and talking to one another. Yet, the film manages to make you instantly care about this girl by contrasting her innocence and normalcy with the war that surrounds her in an effectively short amount of time.
Which is why Eye in the Sky works.
Drone warfare can be framed as detached and cold. But the director, Gavin Hood, does a remarkable job in reminding us that those who command the drones are very much human. A pilot may be oceans away, but the weight of their trigger remains the same. Ministers and secretaries may be watching with trepidation as the mission unfolds, but the burden of their decisions is palpable.
Thanks to a talented cast, potentially boring scenes are gripping and never slow the film down. Seeing Alan Rickman on screen in one of his final performances is also bittersweet. Aaron Paul gives a standout performance and thankfully is given the chance to play a character that is not addicted to any form of drugs.
There are only three drawbacks in this film. While getting the audience to laugh allows them and the film to breathe a little, I found myself laughing too often. I understand the need to highlight how absurd it is that no one seems sure about the legality of it all, but given the subject matter it seemed wrong to laugh especially with a child’s life hanging in the balance.
I also felt uncomfortable with the Kenyan government’s lack of presence in the film. Although the film did a surprisingly well job portraying all the different countries involved in the operation, no one seemed to bother asking the Kenyan government about the potential death of one of its citizens.
Lastly, despite the film’s ability to create a situation that could easily be happening right now in a war-torn part of the globe, certain scenes use technology that I was unaware existed. Since Eye in the Sky never mentions if it takes place in the near future, the use of unrealistic spy tech took me out of the film.
Overall, Eye in the Sky is an intelligent and entertaining film that forces you to think about the future of modern warfare. It will leave you gutted, debating whether or not the right call was made. Audiences will leave theaters with striking images of the cost of war and the complexities in fighting terrorists.
Will this film emotionally drain you?
Will you regret it?
Eye in the Sky was released April 1, 2016.