Eye in the Sky

By Ali Bush '19
Film Columnist

Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone

Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone

For a war movie that includes little action, Eye in the Sky (2015) is a nail-biter and a question-raiser that leaves you utterly enraged at the world in general. Set in military bases all over the world, the film depicts the British government’s decision to deploy a drone missile on one house in Nairobi, Kenya where two suicide bombers are gearing up for a large scale attack. The only thing standing in the way of the drone pilot’s trigger and a burning hellfire is an innocent girl that sets up shop to sell her bread outside of the terrorists’ house. Leaving the British government in indecision and chaos, the film ultimately depicts the decision in dropping a bomb or not. The film is a moral thriller, rather than an action filled thriller, bolstered largely by Helen Mirren’s role as a staunch colonel and Alan Rickman’s fantastic last role as a sagacious, weary military official.

The film is surprisingly captivating for a war film that includes very little action. The plot is seemingly simple: the British government must come to a consensus as to deploy a deadly missile or not. But as the film progresses, obstacles arise, most importantly, the particular placement of an innocent girl right in the pathway of the drone’s missile. The British government has two options: deploy the missile, thereby preventing nearly 100 deaths in a potential suicide bomb attack, but also taking the life of an innocent civilian or leave the suicide bombers to their suspicious intentions and the innocent girl live, risking a greater number of causalities. Left to wrangle with this intense question are a series of characters, including an inexperienced drone pilot (Aaron Paul), a tough-as-nails colonel (Helen Mirren), and a veteran decision maker (Alan Rickman).

The situation put forth in this film – taking the life of one girl versus risking a suicide bomb attack-- seems over simplified and lacks the nuance of real situations, ultimately resulting in a film that borders on a pro-war propagandist film. The mission quickly and quite “logically” moves from being a capture and trial of the alleged suicide bombers to an assassination mission. Compared to the much more controversial missile launches the US deployed in Somalia last week which killed 17 civilians and 12 militants, this situation of risking one civilian life seems to be a pro-war no-brainer. As the film progresses in real-time, the film becomes a border-line propagandist view of pro-drone warfare, portraying the decision-making process extremely agonizing. Similarly, the large amount of surveillance and spying, as suggested in the title, adds to the unsettling idea of a Western big brother keeping tabs on the underdeveloped world. This film raises the question as to how true to real military drone deployments the film is. Although this film may portray drone strikes as essential, particularly in this specific situation, one cannot help but remain skeptical as to the veracity with which Hollywood portrayed these characters and the entire decision making process.

As the icy, driven Colonel Katherine Powell, Helen Mirren isn’t hard to dislike. Her performance as an actress is fierce, but her violently-inclined character is unsettling. Mirren perfectly captures the nuances in her role military of international security by manipulating the law and systems in place to achieve her goal of annihilating the house in Nairobi. It is Alan Rickman’s last role as a war weary veteran that demands our attention and respect. As a war weary veteran that acts as a mediator between the British government and military, Rickman’s voice and facial expressions suggest that he has seen the toll of war and has reservations about this institution. His very last line leaves us with a sense of jarring disillusion: “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”

Left with no real answer or condolence to the ethical questions of war put before us, by the end of the film, I was left with a sense of hopelessness and disillusion. While it is extremely important to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices made by those in defending lives and security in the military, this film fails Maybe it depends on your own standpoint, but this film left me appalled with the military, terrorists, and the world in general. Perhaps this film will convince you of the legitimacy of drone warfare. Ultimately, this film is far too oversimplified and too pro-war for me, but it did keep me at the edge of my seat and shaking my fists.