Eye in the Sky is a gripping, thought-provoking and powerful thriller from director Gavin Hood. As a film examining the ethics of drone warfare, it would make a good double bill with last year’s Good Kill or even Hood’s previous film Ender’s Game, which shares a lot of the concerns presented herein despite being in an entirely different genre.
The action covers a single British led mission, with US and Somali co-operation, against a terrorist group. Initially an attempt at capture, the mission then becomes a shoot-to-kill scenario, attempting to destroy the terrorists in their home before they can carry out a suicide bombing. But questions of legality and collateral damage frustrate the military personnel in the form of Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), and General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), with the order to proceed being constantly “referred up”. In the meantime the situation on the ground becomes more complicated as both civilians and ground agents are increasingly in danger.
Hood and screenwriter Guy Hibbert get full marks for suspense, delivering both a nail-biting thriller and an even handed meditation on the no-easy-answers moral dilemmas presented by the use of drone strikes. On the one hand the film accurately points out the kill one to save dozens argument, yet at the same does not duck the appalling consequences of pulling the trigger, both on the civilians and on the young pilots in those in the horrible little drone booths.
One of the film’s greatest strengths, for me, is the way Hood quietly sets up the young girl who may or may not end up blown to bits by this operation; showing us her daily routine of selling bread, covertly playing and educating herself (her kindly father furtively stops her doing both when her fundamentalist neighbours show up). In addition, the film at times veers into satire in almost Dr Strangelove style, as the constant “referring up” exposes both political cowardice and questions of whether or not they should allow the attack to go ahead in order to be ahead in the propaganda war.
Performances are all very good, with Aaron Paul, Phoebe Fox, Jeremy North, Monica Dolan, Richard McCabe, Barkhad Abdi and Hood himself included in the supporting cast. Mirren is also particularly good in what essentially amounts to the lead role. However, special mention must go to the late, great Alan Rickman. His performance here is as brilliant as one had always come to expect from him, and as a film to bring down a curtain on a great career, Eye in the Sky serves him well.