*WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*
How quickly can things escalate? How much bureaucratic red-tape, coordination with allies and “referring-up” (where the political ramifications are cynically weighed with the moral implications) needs to happen before a decision can be made? What is the human price of preemptive strikes against known terrorists? These are the questions weighing heavily in the razor-sharp new thriller, Eye in the Sky.
Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren), who commands a drone squad surveying Kenya and other spots in the horn of Africa, wakes up one day to find three of the top ten terrorists on the East African most wanted list have gathered in a suburban home in the middle of a militia occupied neighborhood. The original orders from higher up (led by a Alan Rickman in one of his final roles) were to survey and capture (one of the terrorists is a British citizen), but that’s too dangerous with the militiamen around. When a bug-drone confirms they are preparing suicide vests inside, Powell pounds the drums to kill. But when an innocent girl selling bread in the market area outside the house enters the kill zone, things get even more complicated and everyone (and I mean everyone…at one point the British Foreign Minister is rung-up while he’s on the toilet with food poisoning in Singapore) must weigh in before the strike can be executed.
Guy Hibbert’s super-tight script deftly ping-pongs amongst all of the global layers involved in modern drone warfare from the politicians, to the lawyers, to “pilots” controlling the drones from sheds in the Las Vegas desert, to the locals on the ground (one such soul played by Barkhad Abdi is forced to put his own life in danger while the others weigh the cost of his life and others from their comfy office chairs thousands of miles away). There’s absurdity (see the aforementioned toilet conference), sadness (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox show us soldiers with heart, even when what they are doing what seems like nothing more than playing a video game), and cold comfort (there’s something “good” about the fact so many people have to “sign-off” before such a strike can be made, yet also something so…not efficient when expediency is needed to prevent a major attack.)
Director Gavin Hood does his best work to date and finds the humanism in such slippery slopes from Rickman’s mundane side-search for the right doll for his granddaughter’s birthday, to the non-radicalized nature of the loving Islamic family whose innocent daughter is in the cross-hairs, to the plucky kids in the market just looking to make a buck when not playing soccer – blissfully unaware of the political war machine calculating the chances of their harm or death as collateral damage. The intricacies of this new techno-savvy warfare is likewise fascinating to watch intertwined with the human drama.
Eye in the Sky offers no easy answers to the questions is poses. But make no mistake. Action will be taken. And the war machine marches on. Like Homeland, it makes for a tensely entertaining, albeit sobering, ride.
Written by David H. Schleicher