The power of modern technology is multi-faceted. Consider the positive attributes of man’s achievement, the kind of medical science our forbearers could never have dreamed of: scientific miracles of human manufacture by which we can swap hearts and livers, cure diseases, graft on artificial limbs and gauge the neural reactions of the brain in real-time on computer monitors. But then there is the inverse: guns, weapons, nuclear bombs, hydrogen bombs, missiles, chemical warfare and too many ways to count by which we can strategically, coldly eliminate each other.
Eye In The Sky is a movie about the ethical ramifications of technology, and is, in its way, wholly terrifying. With the advent of science, killing has been streamlined. With drone technology, you can now watch someone from the sky, monitor their activity, and bomb the crap out of their house all from the comfort of another country while you have tea and crumpets in a boardroom. All it takes is the push of a few buttons.
Directed by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Eye in the Sky concerns itself with a joint American/British/Kenyan venture to eliminate a number of wanted terrorists in Nairobi. Using drone technology, operated from afar and by operatives on site, they position their bombs and prepare to strike. One thing stands in their way: just outside the house where the terrorists have congregated, a young girl positions herself in the fallout zone, selling loafs of bread to passers-by. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad) is the American drone operator with his finger on the trigger, and he refuses to proceed until they give the girl a chance to move. Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren), in charge of the British War room, manipulates every bureaucratic loophole she can to drop the bomb as soon as she can, attempting to satisfy the demands of various ministers and ambassadors passed vicariously through the mouth of Lt. General Benson (the late Alan Rickman.)
Aesthetically the film can be parsed into two thematic units: the real-time mechanics of satellite and drone surveillance; and the ethical, but mostly just bureaucratic back-and-forth between the people entrusted with that power. Between the two, the film strikes a very fine balance.
The first-hand depiction of drone technology in action via covert mission is foremost extremely suspenseful, while also inherently terrifying. The less than obscured inference here is that violence merely begets violence, and fosters an endless cycle of retribution and retaliatory offense. While there are many arguments which might justify the destruction of would-be terrorists, there is also an important sense of the massive resentment this must imbue the disenfranchised with against The West. If invisible bombs kept randomly dropping from the sky, operated by imperialist foreign harbingers of power, destroying your home and your country and your family, you would be pretty pissed off as well.
For a mainstream film, Eye In The Sky is indeed a very scathing critique. In all the back and forth about whether to drop the bomb, it becomes evident that those in power really do not care about who they kill, but are more interested in checking the boxes of their bureaucratic power structure so as to be personally absolved from the decision.
This is why Eye In The Sky is a stellar film, because it at least allows the questions other films blithely ignore –compare with Michael Bay’s recent 13 Hours, empty on ethics but high on testosterone and patriotic bluster. Situationally, and in certain characterisations, the film may veer towards cliché, but at least its vague clichés work in aid of something, and so you can easily forgive them. Eye In The Sky is very often riveting and the performances stellar, but more importantly, it leaves you with a lot to think about
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10