Drone-driven warfare keeps viewers on edge
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.