Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.
This week, Helen Mirren explores the morality of drone warfare with Eye In The Sky.
We Need to Expand Our Rules of Engagement
Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) has spent six years tracking the number four and five terrorists on the UK most wanted list. When a singular chance to detain them both arises, she coordinates efforts with a US Drone team to keep eyes on the mission from above. But faulty intelligence changes the plan and a far greater danger is uncovered. Forced to shift the focus of the mission from detain to eliminate, the US “eyes in the sky” are the best chance at success. Difficult questions of legality and morality arise when a young African girl enters the kill zone. And those questions are the heart of Gavin Hood’s taut, intelligent thriller Eye In The Sky.
Are We OK with That?
There are no easy answers when it comes to the war on terror. That doesn’t stop the questions from coming, though. And few questions have sparked as much debate as drone warfare. The question of morality alone makes drone warfare a fertile topic for drama. Andrew Niccol tackled the subject from a soldier’s perspective with last year’s Good Kill. Gavin Hood takes a behind the scenes approach for Eye In The Sky. Along with Screenwriter Guy Hibbert, Hood finds ample drama in the complicated ethics of procedure.
They build that drama on the outcome of a single mission. As the film opens, Mirren’s Colonel explains that mission to a slew of remotely connected factions across the globe. Those factions include soldiers from a US Air base in the Nevada desert, aristocratic UK politicians observing from the cushy confines of Whitehall, and at-the-ready ground forces in Kenya. Each faction will play a crucial role in the outcome before all is said and done. But this mission does not go according to plan. They so rarely do. With every passing moment, the situation becomes more and more dangerous. With each new entanglement comes a new ethical puzzle. And as the action unfolds, each character faces their own moral conundrum.
Action doesn’t quite seem like the right word, though. Eye In The Sky is not an action film. In fact, most of the film’s drama involves the key players texting and calling and emailing each other to sort through the shifting legality and morality of the mission at hand. At the center of every steely glance and divisive word is the grand question of what it really means to serve the so-called ‘greater good’.
That may sound like a bore to some of you. But Eye In The Sky plays less like a wordy melodrama than it does a proper action film. People talking and texting has rarely felt this tense. As the drama unfolds, Hood and Hibbert complicate their story in compelling, often intricate ways. In the process, their film becomes a daunting war between intellect and action. Fiery words whiz past like bullets and complex moral arguments land like hellfire missiles. But the pair view each issue from every possible angle. And they’re smart enough not to paint any one point of view as right or wrong.
With that in mind, there aren’t many real bullets or missiles in Eye In The Sky. That leaves much of the dramatic heavy lifting to the film’s cast. Hood draws more than enough firepower from an able-bodied ensemble that includes Mirren, Aaron Paul, Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Northam, Barkhad Abdi, Iain Glen, and the late Alan Rickman. In the hands of this gifted group, Eye In The Sky transcends its talky disposition to portray a tense, complex picture of the war behind the war. A war where right and wrong often coexist. A war where impossible decisions are made in a moment’s notice … and not always by the right people. It’s the war we don’t see enough of in movies. And it’s the war that every human being needs to start watching.
You bet. Eye In The Sky is a well crafted, high-minded piece of cinema that takes an honest look at a touchy subject. One whose ethics and morality seem to shift from one day to the next. There are no easy answers. And Gavin Hood’s film doesn’t offer any. But it does have the guts to ask some difficult questions. And it does so without passing judgement. For that reason alone it’s worth your dollar this week. That Eye In The Sky is such a good film and features marvelous performances across the board is a welcome bonus.