Eye in the Sky: War of Uncertainty, by Tyler Smith
Gavin Hood’s new military thriller Eye in the Sky begins as a seemingly-simplistic take on modern drone warfare, but soon evolves into one of the most complex meditations on the intricacies of war I’ve ever seen. Unlike Hood’s obvious political drama Rendition, which was somehow both thematically bombastic and wholly forgettable, Eye in the Sky is actually interested in engaging with the political and moral arguments of drone warfare, and perhaps even of war itself. It is one of those rare movies that had me on the edge of my seat, first as I waited to see what would happen, then to see how I would feel about it.
The story involves a group of international military personnel cooperating to eliminate a houseful of terrorists in Kenya. As they go through the proper channels to confirm identification, a young girl sits down by the side of the road, selling bread to passersby. This little girl will undoubtedly be killed in the impending drone strike, so the pilots, military officers, and politicians weigh their options. Things become dire as they see the terrorists preparing for an attack, likely on a public place. This could be their only chance to stop a potential terror attack. Is the life of this little girl worth the multiple potential fatalities that could occur if they let the terrorists leave the house?
War is no place for idealism. There are no perfect solutions; only the most practical ones. And, it would appear, the most pragmatic option would be to simply destroy the house and let the little girl die. However, as we see the girl and her loving family, we are reminded that those we simply refer to as “collateral damage” are real people who have done nothing wrong. Not only that, but to allow them to die could cause an international incident, and could do just as much to inspire terrorism as it could to prevent it.
Among the people trying to make sense of an almost impossible situation are Helen Mirren as a no-nonsense colonel, Alan Rickman as a melancholy general, and Aaron Paul as a sympathetic drone pilot. Mirren and Paul represent opposite philosophies; one is willing to live with the collateral damage while the other doesn’t want it on his conscience. In the middle is Rickman, whose task is to manage the operation while also dealing with the political ramifications. His conversations with government bureaucrats and mealy-mouthed politicians make for some of the most frustrating – and surprisingly humorous – scenes in the film.
As the soldiers attempt to figure things out, the politicians seem primarily focused on protecting themselves above all else. This leads to a constant passing of the buck. By the time we get to the United States Secretary of State, we are so far removed from the plight of a poor young girl in Kenya that it’s easy to see how wars are started in the first place. And while the Secretary’s nonchalant certainty can be seen as callous, it is also somehow refreshing, as he is one of the few that is willing to actually make a decision. Compared to some of the more peace-loving politicians involved, his resolve is a breath of fresh air. And yet he still somehow seems a little monstrous.
And this is at the core of Eye in the Sky. There are no winners here. Nobody is happy about what needs to be done; they simply hold their nose and move forward, hoping and praying that they’ve done the right thing. The film holds back its judgment of these characters and instead laments the larger situation. And while the film is ostensibly about drone warfare, the basic circumstances are not new; war is seldom fair, and to act as though this is some new conundrum brought about by the use of drones is to ignore the deeper truths about the world we live in.
Gavin Hood has crafted a film that is at once absurd and sobering. It seems to condemn the military mindset, while understanding the need for it. There is no judgment of any one character, but rather of the larger necessity for the measures taken by these characters. As such, a viewer can walk into Eye in the Sky with a clear idea of what they believe about modern warfare and walk out with a more muddled – and perhaps a more honest – view of things. This may sound frustrating to some, but this isn’t a film interested in easy answers. Instead, it wants to draw the viewer, if only for a short while, into the fog of war, where true moral clarity is usually the first casualty.