Moral dilemmas drive ‘Eye in the Sky’

Andrew Shermoen

Whoever said “war never changes” is right.

Even during these times of drone warfare and attempts in robotics and science to minimize soldier casualties, we still find ourselves constantly questioning if the actions we commit during war justify the massive loss of life that we are creating. Centered on a slew of interesting and well-developed characters, each with distinct moral backgrounds that define their reasoning, “Eye in the Sky” might be on par with some of cinema’s best films of the war genre. Who would have guessed a movie about a girl selling bread could be so suspenseful?

British military forces have been given intelligence that a large meeting of high-ranking Al-Shabaab extremists are meeting at a safehouse in Nairobi, Kenya. Col. Katharine Powell (Helen Mirren) heads the operation and the house is surveilled by a drone being flown by 2nd Lt. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul).

When explosives and suicide vests are discovered in the house by Kenyan field agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), Powell attempts to move the mission from a capture to a kill mission.

Preparing to get confirmation on a drone strike, Powell must wait while Lt. Gen. Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) attempts to convince different heads of state to allow for a strike. Matters become complicated when a young girl selling bread (Aisha Takow) stands outside the house. Watts asks for Powell to find a way to minimize the chance of death for this young, innocent girl.

The performances in the film are fantastic. Every character is developed with intense devotion to emotion and the talented actors in the film are perfect in their roles. Mirren is intensely devoted and you see the difficulty in making the decisions that face her. The emotional center of the film is with Paul, as his character is given the most ethically difficult decision of any character in the movie. He strives to save this girl’s life in any way possible and the sorrow he is going through is flawlessly captured through Paul’s performance.

The performance to watch is from Rickman though. Coming shortly after his death, “Eye in the Sky” reminds us of the great talent that is Rickman. He not only portrays the general with the subtle emotional ticks he has been able to capture throughout his entire career, but his tremendous talent of giving each word he says such power that you feel the weight behind them is here in spades.

Near the end of the film Rickman gives a line so powerful that one can’t help but feel immense appreciation for the magnificent career of this talented actor. It is the kind of line that makes you realize he will be sorely missed.

If I had one dislike it would be that the film often misses the mark with its tone. It has a few moments of confusing levity that feel somewhat misplaced. The Foreign Secretary has food poisoning and has to appear in a bathrobe. Rickman’s character has to buy a present for his granddaughter whilst making these big decisions. These odd moments of humor somewhat mess with the tone and feel forced at times. The themes of the film make it intensely enjoyable despite these tonal missteps.

Beyond just the performances, the film boasts great ethical discussion about the attitude of war. The film surrounds the difficulty of deciding when pulling the trigger is worth it. If one innocent child dies, is that worth possibly saving 80? One is a certainty and the other is just a possibility. Is that possibility enough to excuse an innocent death, and that of a child? That’s the kind of questioning that embodies “Eye in the Sky.”

The film also questions if drone strikes actually remove the emotion of killing that comes with being a soldier. Certainly this is the purpose of the emotional journey with Paul’s character. It’s an intensely ethical film, making you question every angle of modern warfare and the emotion and pain behind it.

Rating: 4/5 stars