Drone-driven warfare keeps view­ers on edge

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in New York

Om­ni­scient high-def­i­ni­tion views from above have do­nenoth­ing to pen­e­trate the fog of war in Gavin Hood’s drone drama Eye in the Sky.

It’s a lean, Lumet-like thriller that puts the moral cal­cu­lus of drone warfare in its crosshairs. Play­ing out com­pellingly in real time, a strike against So­mali ter­ror­ists in Nairobi is plot­ted by the hawk­ish, UK-based Colonel Kather­ine Pow­ell (He­len Mir­ren), whose op­er­a­tion in­volves pi­lots, politi­cians and mil­i­tary com­mand in var­i­ous dig­i­tally linked re­mote lo­ca­tions, from the board­room to the toi­let.

Drones have be­gun to re­shape the war movie, and will doubtlessly con­tinue to pro­lif­er­ate on our screens just as they have overMid­dle East­ern skies. Eye in the Sky fol­lows last year’s very solid Good Kill, star­ring Ethan Hawke as a drone pi­lot based in Las Ve­gas. Di­rec­tor An­drew Nic­col’s aim was prin­ci­pally about the psy­cho­log­i­cal toll such dis­con­nected bat­tles take on its far­removed sol­diers.

Hood more thor­oughly takes ad­van­tage of the new per­spec­tives drones af­ford to film­mak­ers. While much of it is com­posed of faces in front of com­puter screens, some of the film’s most re­mark­able im­ages come from the view of a hov­er­ing drone or— most im­pres­sively — a re­mote-con­trolled bee­tle that flut­ters right into the sus­pects’ lair, alight­ing on the rafters to pro­vide a stag­ger­ing close-up, whether Mr DeMille is ready or not.

With such supreme pow­ers of sur­veil­lance, Pow­ell and her col­leagues (in­clud­ing the ever-droll Alan Rick­man as a Bri­tish gen­eral, in one of his last per­for­mances) have be­come ac­cus­tomed to a pre­vi­ously un­matched level of cer­tainty — or so they would like to think.

The mis­sion is to ap­pre­hend a hand­ful of highly ranked ter­ror­ists, but when the trio — two rad­i­cal­ized Bri­tish na­tion­als and an Amer­i­can— are seen pre­par­ing vests for a sui­cide at­tack, the plan is ratch­eted up from “cap­ture” to “kill”.

The clash of Eye in the Sky isn’t on the bat­tle­field but in the chain-of-com­mand de­bate over the rules of en­gage­ment that ping-pongs around politi­cians and lawyers who are pres­sured by Pow­ell and Rick­man’s gen­eral to give their OK. The col­lat­eral-dam­age cal­cu­la­tions and emo­tional stakes are changed sig­nif­i­cantly when a young girl sits out­side the walls of the tar­get to sell bread.

An Amer­i­can pi­lot (Aaron Paul), tasked to bring “hell­fire” on the tar­get, lays off the trig­ger, and nu­mer­ous lev­els of ner­vous govern­ment of­fi­cials “re­fer up” the de­ci­sion to their su­pe­ri­ors whilean­a­gent on the ground at­tempts to chase the girl away.

The plot­ting in Guy Hib­bert’s screen­play, along with the quick cut­ting of Hood, push the movie’s in­ten­sity, mak­ing Eye in the Sky more riv­et­ing than preachy.

The film might have hit home more if the tick­tock of its plot al­lowed us to bet­ter know its char­ac­ters, who some­times come off as mere mouth­pieces of dif­fer­ent philoso­phies of mod­ern warfare. But Eye in the Sky is nev­er­the­less a com­pelling case of how moral pre­ci­sion doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily match tech­ni­cal ac­cu­racy.

The de­bate that rages in Eye in the Sky is per­haps more than over the fate of a sin­gle civil­ian ca­su­alty. But it could hardly seem more top­i­cal. On Mon­day, more than 150 Shabab mil­i­tants were killed in So­ma­lia in a strike par­tially car­ried out by drones.

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