War and fighting has been a constant force in humanity for as long as people have had disagreements. The evolution of battle has evolved from stones, to swords, to guns and even to nuclear weaponry. It will continue to evolve, and with it, our capacity for destruction and self-destruction also change. Eye in the Sky focuses its lens on modern warfare practices including the new rules of engagement and a new form of trauma can come from it.
Writer Guy Hibbert is no stranger to stories about political and militaristic moral dilemmas, with films like Complicit and Five Minutes in Heaven. Like his previous films, Hibbert creates and conscientiously develops characters to garner the maximum amount of pathos possible. More than examining only the logical points behind the decision-making, he also makes sure to include the amount of sway sentiment should play. The film’s biggest problem is that it tries to push the emotional agenda too noticeably, instead of letting the story and characters organically create the sentimental shifts. That being said, the film is still wildly effective, but like a manipulated marionette, you get taken a little aback from the film if you notice your strings being pulled.
The greatest grounding force this film has is its cast, and they are each stellar in their roles. Helen Mirren playing the war hardened colonel that is solely focused on the mission, willing to alter statistics to meet her agenda. Aaron Paul as the drone operator, forced to carry out orders despite his moral reservations. Iain Glen as the politician who serves no greater purpose than a middle man worried more about his image than anything else. Then there is the late, great Alan Rickman in his final live-action role as the Lieutenant General that must toe the line between politics and the military. Rickman is in great form in this film, displaying his vast versatility and reminding us why he will be considered one of the greatest actors of all time.
Not one to shy away from debate-causing stories involving complicated ethical questions, director Gavin Hood (Rendition, Tsotsi) uses the film to make a bold, pointed statement on the ever-changing rules of engagement. He shines the light on a near-farcical baton passing of accountability. The entire thing is meant to play out with an air of ridiculousness, becoming a running gag throughout the film. Eye in the Sky takes place mostly within the confines of 4 rooms in constant contact with each other. Even though there should be a feeling of claustrophobia, each room seems to be a world unto itself.
The film not only focuses on the political effects of drone warfare, but also the devastating psychological toll it takes on these operators. Many misinformed people are under the assumption that while drone warfare doesn’t put the soldiers in direct harm, it also doesn’t have the same mental effects on them. They think it’s more like a video game, where you point and click to kill people. Hood takes that dehumanizing view and shows the complex, new reality our soldiers are facing. This is all uncharted territory without a map or guide to navigate the unexplored terrain. Drone pilots are facing new forms of post-traumatic stress disorder because instead of having their military service confined to tours, they are able to go home to their family after each day of service. We all sometimes take work home with us, but this unprecedented blurring of the lines, with no adjustment period creates the perfect storm.
Eye in the Sky doesn’t focus on the effect of drone warfare on soldiers as in-depth as the Andrew Niccol’s character study film Good Kill, but it instead focuses on every moving part. The chain of command and information seem almost overcomplicated, with each branch needing to confirm their actions with a different one. It may come off as unnecessary, but the film reminds us that like the U.S. government, we need this checks and balances system in place. It also reminds us how easily information can be corrupted when there is little oversight keeping each branch honest.
The immediacy of Eye in the Sky‘s message is felt through the almost real-time progression of time. Hood uses time-sensitive events with potentially fatal outcomes to build an ever-present tension. We see how visceral and emotional war can be, even when your soldier’s lives aren’t in danger. For the soldiers forced to fight the wars, the emotionally cost is sometimes crippling. For politicians and military heads, it’s business as usual and can usually be taken care of just in time for lunch. For the rest of us, it something that happens daily, but we don’t find out about it until it’s a blurb in the news.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)