Would you kill 1 innocent child to possibly save 80 other lives?
You can shrug off that question or answer it flippantly, unless you’re facing both this situation and the condemnation of your conscience for life. Or if you’re the political and military personnel worrying about legal repercussions and public reaction to what you will do next in Eye in the Sky.
Eye in the Sky is an action-packed thriller, despite the fact that your senses aren’t constantly assaulted with graphic scenes of bloodied, blown up bodies, men charging and swearing on the battlefield. In fact, modern warfare is so clinical and precise, it boils down to sending in advanced drones so tiny and undetectable they fit into a bird and an insect to easily spy across enemy lines.
But seeing so clearly becomes both the solution and problem.
Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), who directs the drone operation from London, was supposed to just capture a group of wanted terrorists, including a radicalized Brit lady, from their safe house in Kenya. But the brief suddenly escalates to needing to kill them when drone footage clearly shows them with lots of firepower laid out, on the verge of carrying out a suicide bombing.
Meanwhile in Nevada, American drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is about to destroy the safe house with a missile. This time, the drone shows a young girl playing just beside the house. Which brings us back to the question we first asked you: how much is 1 life worth, next to the lives of 80 who can potentially be killed by the suicide bombs if the terrorists aren’t executed?
The decision to strike or not gets pushed around, up the ranks of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, with only minutes to spare before the terrorists make their move. All of which heightens the tension for moviegoers in the absence of any real action.
One of the strongest thing about Eye in the Sky is naturally its casting. We’re not only talking of Aaron Paul, who has won a string of Emmys for Breaking Bad, but the 2 Brits: Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren. Given his recent passing, the late Rickman’s final action film role (his absolute last, Alice Through the Looking Glass, comes out in May) is bound to bring many fans to the cinemas. And needless to say, he delivered his role wonderfully. As Lieutenant General Frank Benson, Rickman’s dryly sarcastic drawl fits his slightly sardonic character perfectly. Though the general seemed heartless, Rickman captured the slight melancholy the character felt after giving the approval to Colonel Powell to destroy the safe house and injuring the girl severely. The micro expressions that the actor gives, like a slight twitch of the mouth, was believably the restrained stiff upper lip response of an English military commander.
But Rickman wasn’t the only one whose acting shone. Helen Mirren, who has won an Academy Award for Best Actress, several Emmy Awards and more, deserves every praise as well. Colonel Powell is tough and pragmatic and also comes off as unfeeling, giving her preference to destroy the safe house, never mind the collateral damage. Her hard gaze and snappy attitude convinced you she wouldn’t feel anything when the little girl died. However, as she drove home, her face depicted a certain vulnerability and deep sadness – the way she cast her gaze downwards and covered her face with her hand.
What helped the movie further along was having a strong script. Written by Guy Hibbert, who won the World Cinema Screenwriting Award for Five Minutes of Heaven, the script showed the cowardice up the chain of command as the buck kept passing upwards and politicians afraid to get their hands dirty. In fact, there’s a particular quote delivered by Richard McCabe as Attorney General George Matherson that stuck with us: “If they kill 80 people, we win the propaganda war. If we kill one child, they do.” It sure set us thinking about what else was at stake in this apparently straightforward decision. Towards the end, when Angela North (Monica Dolan) told General Benson about her disappointment with him, the general fired back smartly — “Never tell a soldier he does not know the cause of war.” It’s short, succinct, and combined with Rickman’s brilliant acting, the line was like a punch to the gut.
Heavily featuring the use of drones, Eye in the Sky exhibits what our current century is capable of in terms of warfare and technology. Through drone use, we’ve taken military conflict to a new level. For example, pilot Watts was comfortably in America while firing the missile, by merely tapping on the drone situated nearest to the safe house. This take on warfare is fresh and doubtless saves lots of money on production, as compared to the mainstream portrayal of conflict (soldiers firing enemies with guns in muddy trenches).
This well-paced movie, with its simple plot but complex build-up, also captured the kind of moral conflict shouldered by the government and military forces. Unlike typical war films, such as The Hurt Locker and Jarhead which show life on the battlefield, Eye in the Sky easily captures the essence of war, the cause of it and the human instinct to avoid the responsibility of making a decision. The characters manage to portray all that without having to actually be on the combat zone.
Having directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ender’s Game, Gavin Hood has achieved something remarkable for Eye in the Sky by making 102 minutes of people sitting in front of screens actually compelling — through its fast pacing and complexity of propaganda warfare. The film also captured a huge irony: though the British and Americans won the physical war, they lost the propaganda one by sacrificing the innocent child, essentially what they’d tried so hard to avoid the entire film.
By the end of the film, you realize the reason behind the opening quote “In war, truth is the first casualty”.
Release Date: 7 April 2016
Runtime: 102 minutes
Censorship Rating: PG 13
Director: Gavin Hood
Main Actors: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul
Photos courtesy of Shaw