Eye in the Sky

Posted on March 10, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some violent images and language
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Military violence including terrorism, bombs, explosions, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 11, 2016
Date Released to DVD: June 27, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01CUMHBJS
Copyright Bleeker Street 2016
Copyright Bleeker Street 2016

“Eye in the Sky” is a rare thriller that grips the mind and heart equally. Drones take our military closer than we have ever been before to the people and the activities of the enemy as they remove us further than we have ever been before from the visceral reality of the actions we take based on what we have learned. This film takes us inside the tactical, political, legal, and moral choices faced by the international governments and military in combating terrorism. Director Gavin Hood and screenwriter Guy Hibbert show us the stakes rising and the options shrinking with each passing second, so we in the audience must constantly ask ourselves not just what the characters should do but what we would do.

Colonel Katherine Powell of the British Army (Helen Mirren) is awakened by her phone. Intelligence received via drone indicates that three from the top ten international most wanted list of terrorists may possibly be together at a home in Kenya. The British and the US are especially interested in one couple they have been trying to find for six years. The wife is British and the husband is American. Both countries want them captured and tried at home.

If her team can positively identify the couple and the man they are meeting with, the mission will turn from reconnaissance to capture. But then the drone camera reveals that the danger is far more dire and imminent than they thought. The house is not just a meeting place. They are arming suicide bombers, taping their last statements, and presumably getting ready to send them into densely populated areas for maximum carnage. The people working on this are all over the world, with a military unit in Hawaii that analyzes images from a drone in Kenya, flown by a pilot in Las Vegas, commanded by military personnel in England, under the direction of elected officials who are both away from their countries on business.

The military has the capacity to prevent the suicide bombers from inflicting damage on civilians by blowing them up before they leave. But they are in the middle of a residential area. Is this warfare or an execution? Does it matter that two of the targets are British and US citizens? Does it matter that a little girl is selling bread just outside the house?

The international scope of the mission and the bureaucratic/political decision-making is fascinating. Information inside the house comes from a tiny mini-drone that looks like an insect, flown into the house by an operative nearby who is pretending to be both selling buckets in the open market and playing a video game on a phone. The operative is played by “Captain Phillips” star Barkhad Abdi, a very different and equally impressive performance of great intelligence and thoughtfulness. Information from the outside, including the biometric identification of the suspected terrorists, comes from drones monitored by Americans half a world away. Sitting at screens are Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox as US military who are diligent and dedicated but not really prepared to blow up the people they’ve been spying on, especially that little girl.

There is a literal ticking time bomb in that house. We can see it. What should we do about it? Should we risk that child’s life to keep the suicide bombers from taking more lives? For the military, including Colonel Powell and her boss, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman, making us miss him even more sharply), it is a mathematical calculus; not simple, but clear. They know they must consult the lawyers, who remind them of the criteria, almost a formula, they are required to apply. But the bureaucrats get nervous, and bump it up to the politicians. Calls must be made all over the world as the officials are participating in various diplomatic events; at one point it is even suggested that the question be put to the President of the United States.

But the film shows us that these questions have already been asked and answered. There is a calculus that is reassuringly quantitative and comprehensive but disturbingly clinical. As we see the people all over the world watching the people inside the house, trying to figure out how to apply those algorithms expressed in acronyms and percentages, the film forces us along with the characters to try to apply formulas to a world that will always confound them.

Parents should know that this movie features military violence including drones, guns, explosions, terrorism, suicide bombers, with some grisly and disturbing images, and very strong language. An extended part of the film focuses on potential “collateral damage” to civilians, including a child, from military action.

Family discussion: How would you improve the decision that was ultimately made? How would you improve the process for making it? Who should decide?

If you like this, try: the documentary “Drone”

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