Eye in the Sky, 2016.
Directed by Gavin Hood.
Starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Aisha Takow, Phoebe Fox, Gavin Hood, Jeremy Northam, Monica Dolan, Kim Engelbrecht, and Iain Glen.
The moral implications of sending a drone to eliminate three terrorists on the British military’s top five most wanted list suddenly change when the life of an innocent girl is threatened.
Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky is a decidedly griping examination of the responsibility involved in making military motivated decisions, the implications those decisions have on the people who carry those same orders out, and the morality behind carrying out pre-emptive strikes on foreign soil. Hood, who has explored the very same topic of morality in modern warfare in his 2007 film Rendition, revisits the subject of whether the ends justify the means in a much more clean-cut way.
Hood’s film is an unquestionably tense thriller that captivates its audiences by releasing its tension, for the most part, evenly across its 1 hour and 42 minute run time. The central story line grounds the film in a realistic manner, while the secondary narrative serves to reflect through the way in which it’s edited, how information, surveillance and reconnaissance are shared instantaneously. The editing cuts quickly and suddenly between different locations and characters, following those in power who cannot decide what action should be taken against the extremists operating within an occupied area of Kenya. The effect is seamless and very effective in tying everyone into the central drama of what is happening on the ground in Kenya, while also emphasising that there is a separation between those watching and those doing. It also implies that the physical separation from watching an operation in no way separates those who were illicit in its execution from the guilt or stress of carrying it out.
From beginning to end Hood grounds the film’s focus narrative with the character of a young girl living in the occupied town. By focusing on the outcome of this innocent girl’s life, Hood intentionally humanises her circumstance to stress that the decision to save her life cannot be rendered into statistics without cause for guilt. Hood utilises his character very well, implanting her image and actions frequently and evenly to emphasise the difficulty in making the decision to carry out a pre-emptive strike when the consequences of that decision are known. In the build up to that decision, the consistency of switching back to her character is all but forgotten, which faintly subtracts from the full climatic impact of when the decision is finally made, however, this is one of the only notably area’s where the pace declines, and only does so for a few minutes.
In another way to humanise his characters, Hood implements a consistently subtle humour that grows minute by minute in the lead up to the film’s most tense moments. At its funniest, Hood utilises this humour to ridicule many of his characters’ inability to make a decision, and the fear they have in taking responsibility for their actions. Filmed largely on location in South Africa, the main narrative is exceedingly accurate. The visual effects of the drone, the explosions and the expansive landscape of Kenya establish a believable and realistic setting that reflects our contemporary view of modern warfare. All of this works to make to film’s most tense moments more gripping because we imagine them happening more clearly. However, the visual effects used to illustrate handheld surveillance has the unintended effect of removing the viewer from the reality Hood tries so hard to create, making its very inclusion laughable. These moments blend scene’s Hood intends to be serious with scenes that are intentionally humorous, making it difficult to tell on occasion what he intends to ridicule.
Without a doubt the most implicit theme that Hood seeks to explore through the narrative framework of his film is the inability to claim responsibility in the face of an impossibly difficult moral decision that threatens our virtue in exchange for security. Thank you is repeated in increasing amounts to reinforce the irony in expressing gratitude to someone who feels guilty for the work they’d done. The implication of removing the pilot from the physical reality of killing someone by allowing them to pilot a drone is illuminated to be hardly any better. The continuous and repetitious amount of information that is fed to them has the effect of reinforcing the reality and consequences of their actions. Predictions, evaluations and assessments create an image that works on a secondary level to play on the imagination of the pilots, making their actions, in a way, categorically worse.
In also illuminating the shifting responsibility that is recurrently passed between characters, Eye in the Sky wonderfully represents the contemporary global opinions of whether or not pre-emptive drone strikes are morally justified; allowing you as the viewer to question and decide for yourself whether using remote guided drones makes the process of ‘shooting to kill’ quicker and easier. It challenges its viewers with these serious questions without forcing them on us in an obvious way, making it an excellent way to spend 1 hour and 42 minutes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★