TIFF Journal: ‘Eye in the Sky’

'Eye in the Sky'

Movie Rating:


Good Kill‘ might have been the first of an inevitable trend of drone warfare movies, but ‘Eye in the Sky’ qualifies as the first actually worth seeking out. Even though director Gavin Hood (‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’, but forgive him since he also made ‘Tsotsi’) hasn’t delivered a masterpiece, he has made an interesting feature that, for better or worse, could only exist now.

‘Eye in the Sky’ follows the various levels of officials involved in greenlighting a drone attack. It starts rather mundanely with folks like Alan Rickman’s Lt. General Frank Benson struggling to purchase the right doll for his daughter’s birthday on the way to work, or drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) chatting to a new recruit in Vegas. Once the main thrust of the tale kicks off, the story unfolds in real time. Helen Mirren plays anxious Col. Katherine Powell, who has spent months tracking down a Somali terrorist cell. Along with Watts’ armed eye-in-the-sky and even smaller cameras operated by a man on the ground (Barkhad Abdi from ‘Captain Phillips’), Powell finds the group in an isolated location and sees that they’re strapping suicide bombers for a mission. From there, the British “search and capture” operation turns to a kill order.

At that point, the meat of the movie truly begins. You see, with so many people involved on so many levels, this brand of warfare isn’t as simple as pulling a trigger. Powell might want to attack immediately, but she has to go through Benson and layers of politicians to change the nature of her mission. These sequences play out in bleak comedy as no one is willing to make the decision to kill from the comfort of a boardroom, and everyone seems to have someone else they want to pass the responsibility to. Once Watts (who ultimately has to fire the rocket) spots a little girl in the danger zone, the debate and frantic phone calls stop being so funny. Suddenly, the cost of human life is reduced to an equation of acceptable collateral damage and things get far more morally complex.

Conceptually, ‘Eye in the Sky’ is rather brilliant. The film showcases the strangely bureaucratic manner with which modern warfare is carried out. In practice, the movie doesn’t quite live up to its initial promise. The use of humor, famous faces and arch drama dilutes the realism of the situation as much as it manages to increase the entertainment value. Sometimes the transitions between flippant comedy and morally challenging drama are more uncomfortable than intriguing. Still, the strength of the central concept sells the movie alone, even if the execution is somewhat bungled.

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