Eye in the Sky

The horror of omnipotence

W ouldn’t it be nice if all drone use was more meticulously considered? Are the tools of war more humane or less if monitored remotely rather than enforced in person? Is “humane” even the right word? There is always something both awesome and horrible about advancement of potentially lethal technology. Given how “push button” the execution, I want to believe that every button pusher actually takes a moment to consider.

Keeping in mind Kenya is a “friendly” country (whatever that means), English military brass is tracking terrorists in Nairobi from afar and from above. This is a “day in the life” movie – everything happens in mere hours of real time. There’s only one mission, but many possible actions and an infinite amount of consequences. Assuming true, the technology really is awesome. There’s the satellite in outer space. And there it is tracking a car thousands of miles away. We’re watching it live from the next continent over … and the one beyond that.  And there’s the targeting system. We could hit that car if we wanted. If it stands still for 45 seconds, we can hit it from space. Good luck with the red light, buddy.

And launching a missile from the outer atmosphere is exactly what Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) wants to do – let’s plug the bastards while we can. The two she’s been tracking are rarer than a groundhog sighting and when they see a shadow, it’s nuclear winter. So when she finds them in a military zone … planning stuff (if they can make a camera into a beetle, can they go even smaller? Is there anything I do which cannot be watched?), well, it’s time for action. Call up for permission and tell the Americans to arm the missile.

This is where everybody gets reluctant. Let me rephrase, Powell is in and her superior Lt. General Benson (Alan Rickman) is a go, but he’s at a table with the attorney general and P.M. reps. Somewhere half a world away in the Nevada desert the camera/missile operator, American G.I. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), is also reluctant. Powell and Benson have already done the math – shoot them. Shoot them fast. Shoot them now. Don’t wait. Don’t apologize. Everybody else has doubts, compounded by the proximity of an innocent little girl selling bread (Aisha Takow).

This is how and where I applaud art. In reality, I doubt these decisions are debated with any ferocity. And that’s a shame, because it not just an equation: Kill two terrorists now + one innocent little girl = eighty saved innocent lives. Scales of balance say, “fire!” Right? Eye in the Sky explores the cost of propaganda. You see, it’s not just about taking an innocent life, killing one girl creates more terrorists by itself. Once the news is broken, the damage is done; there’s no explaining the public good or the lives saved. And the evil spreads. Decisions like this have to be more carefully considered.

Speaking of which, there’s an absolutely hilarious moment in this chain – and it’s only funny in a subtle and cynical way. This movie is constantly about Mirren and Rickman pushing to fire that missile and everybody else pushing back – what does the attorney general say? What doesEyeSky2 the foreign secretary say? What does the P.M. say? What does the cow say?  (I know this one: “Moo”)  At one point, however, the U.S. Secretary of State is tracked down in China. It takes him no time to answer. “Do IT! Do it NOW!” No waffling. No considering. English say there’s a big fish to be caught? Don’t even hesitate. Yup, that’s us. God forbid we Americans ever consider the consequences of engagement.

Eye in the Sky is the very definition of tense thriller. My attention was rapt from start to finish. How will this play out? Does the military win? Do the politicans win? Do the the terrorists win? Does Kenya win? Does the little girl win? Or is this all one big loss for humanity? Go bake some more meth, Aaron Paul; we all need it. The irony of the tension is that most of the players aren’t where the action is. This is modern warfare … most of it is done from an armchair thousands of miles away. This is both good and bad and the movie is well aware of that phenomenon.

Eye in the Sky is Alan Rickman’s last non-animated movie. I wish his role were more substantial, but it won’t mar a legacy. Professional guy. I’ll miss him.

♪I am the Eye in the Sky
Shooting at you
I can take your life
If you don’t play by my rules
I have God-like tools
Watch me wield this knife
And I don’t need to spy anymore
To know it’s time to end this strife
Time to end this strife♫

Rated R, 102 Minutes
D: Gavin Hood
W: Guy Hibbert
Genre: Debating collateral damage
Type of person most likely to enjoy this film: Guilt-ridden soldiers
Type of person least likely to enjoy this film: Guilt-ridden soldiers

♪ Parody inspired by “Eye in the Sky”

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5 Responses to “Eye in the Sky” Subscribe

  1. dawson April 11, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    I loved Rickman in this. Gave some real humanness to an unwinnable situation. Also had me chuckling. Makes me miss him even more but a nice tribute in memory of at the end
    This was the first film I’ve seen in a while where you could hear a pin drop in a packed cinema.
    Glad you liked it :)

  2. Batman May 12, 2016 at 7:00 am #

    Oh, Esseff. So many errors in your review. First, they don’t launch any missiles from the “outer atmosphere”. The drone is around 20,000′ above ground level. Still well within the troposphere. Second, Aaron Paul’s character isn’t an “American G.I.”: “G.I.” refers to soldiers, not airmen. Finally, and most importantly, A-a-ron never “baked” meth. They referred to it on the show as “cooking”. I would have accepted “boiling” or even “poaching”, but “baking” is right out.

    Other than that, great review. From my point of view, the finer points were the facts that individual politicians really didn’t seem to like making a decision. Everybody seemed to want to refer up. When you saw the American Secretary of State get pissed off about being asked to make a decision, it’s because the decision-making had already been met. The military guys were correct in saying that ROE had been met. The introduction of the recomputation of a Collateral Damage Estimate (CDE) highlighted the stupidity of the politicians’ stance: “No, we can’t possible take the shot with a 65% chance of CDE. Oh, it’s 45%? Well, I suppose that’s OK.”

  3. Batman May 12, 2016 at 7:01 am #

    BTW, I’m glad your site is no longer blocked by my work. Too bad FW seems to be screwed up.

  4. Jim May 12, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

    Always glad you’re on my side, Batman. If I ever write a screenplay, I would like you to be my technical consultant.

  5. Batman May 12, 2016 at 10:26 pm #

    I look forward to working with you on your movie about methamphetamine production.

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