Drones are a controversial subject in today's society, to be sure. So the idea of tackling such a subject in a film must have been a daunting task -- it would either be very biased, or attempt to remain neutral (but still most likely be affected by a bias).
I am pleased to say that director Gavin Hood's EYE IN THE SKY is pretty terribly balanced in this regard -- and it packs one hell of a punch. Taking place mainly in Kenya, the film covers a covert military operation with an outcome that is heavily influenced by the use of drone technology, detailing the risks involved.
There are several major players in this game of stakes. Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren), a British military intelligence officer in charge of tracking a group of terrorists under Al Shabab, leads the secret drone mission to capture the terrorists in a safehouse in Nairobi. Lieutenant General Frank Benson (one of the late Alan Rickman's last roles) is back in the safety of the UK office with several government officials, monitoring the mission via conference call. Private Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is assigned to pilot the "eye in the sky", with Private Carrie Gershwin (Phoebe Fox) as the (somewhat tacked on) moral support, maneuvering the remote drone while the soldiers on the ground do their work. Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) is on the ground, getting a view that the drone is unable to pick up with a remote control beetle.
When it is discovered that the group is preparing two suicide bombings, the mission quickly changes its objective to sending in a drone to kill the terrorists.
But when a young girl sets up shop within the kill zone, selling bread, the tone of the entire mission shifts: where there was already an issue with the British leading an attack on friendly territory, there is now the question of civilian casualties -- a higher risk for the "propaganda war" when there are children involved. Tensions rise as responsibility gets passed around like a hot potato -- no one seems to want to make the final decision except for the people who don't have that ability.
The idea of comfortable people shirking responsibility is a concept that runs strong throughout this film: the juxtaposition of Lt. General Benson trying to buy the "right" doll for his granddaughter cut next to the raggedy doll in the Kenyan girl's bedroom is a clear sign of a disparity in privilege. The debate is presented in a fairly even manner: there are those who would rather wait for the girl to move, while others believe that the life of one individual does not stand against the lives of many.
Though the fairly obvious choice -- to wait until the terrorists actually start to leave the house to hit their mark -- seems to be overlooked, the strongly debated issue of drone warfare is gracefully tackled (the scale does seem to tip in favor of it, but it beautifully presents the gravity of the situation). It shows the people affected by drone warfare -- most significantly through the little girl that is unknowingly causing such a fuss for the mission: a reminiscence of the little girl in Schindler's list, she puts a human spin on the drone conflict.
This film may be about a divisive topic, but the way it is handled is well worth the watch. EYE IN THE SKY plays at Midtown Cinema, starting 4/1!