Eye in the Sky, which arrived in cinemas earlier this month, is a profound and chilling piece of cinema directed by Gavin Hood, concerning the all too familiar struggles of decision-making – both politically and militarily – on the current geopolitical landscape, as well as the controversial matter of drone strikes. With a stellar cast, including performances from Helen Mirren and a suitably stern final performance from the late Alan Rickman, the plot revolves around a military operation in Nairobi, Kenya, where intelligence has led the British and US armies to believe a radicalised, British-born Muslim woman (and prime target) is in hiding with Al-Shabaab extremists. Mirren, who acts brilliantly as a tight-lipped colonel, oversees the operation, with a number of Kenyan-born intelligence officers, including actor Barkhad Abdi (who can be remembered for his thrilling debut performance as a Somali pirate in Captain Phillips), working on the ground. As events reach their zenith, Rickman, who plays an equally no-nonsense lieutenant general, chairs a Cobra meeting in Downing Street and is faced with a room of clueless politicians – along with confusion over which toy he needs to buy for his young daughter. The latter scenario adds a light touch of humour to what is, in aggregate, a grave narrative about drone warfare and its consequences.
After a number of military gadgets, including an unconvincing model of a bird with an in-built camera (which oddly raised next to no suspicion from the extremists), have been used to gather information, it turns out that the extremists are preparing for what appears to be a suicide bombing. This ultimately thwarts the initial goal of a ‘capture’ mission, with Mirren’s character changing tactics and ruling it a ‘kill’ operation, then calling in the US military to initiate a drone strike on the house, given the change in circumstances. This leaves all the personnel concerned with a moral dilemma (the extremists having gathered in a safe house in an area where a child is selling bread) that will have the audience feeling equally tense, and undoubtedly partial to a particular course of action. It is in this area that the film excels, forcing its audience to consider how they would act in such a situation and challenging our notions of right and wrong.
Beyond the overall dilemma, the film perceptively explores the relationship between the military and government in dealing with crises, particularly those concerning terrorists, with the military’s largely straightforward, utilitarian approach coming face-to-face with politicians who are more concerned with the consequences such operations will have on their careers. This presents what is a frustrating and difficult conflict of interests. It is hard, throughout, not to sympathise more with the military, who are intent on striking, as they battle through a number of legal and political hurdles. What we see is a perpetual blame-game among the politicians, as each individual tries to evade responsibility and ‘refer up’ to other officials, Mirren and Rickman’s characters growing wearier all the while. Despite any scepticism regarding the believability of that ‘bird’, the film is a thrilling two hours (well, just under) and will leave audiences shocked and more aware of the ethical challenges our military has to face in today’s world.
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