Starring Helen Mirren. Rated PG.
Eye in the Sky provides an intimate look at the moral minefield that accompanies the employment of drone warfare. It’s not the first movie to do so. (Last year’s Good Kill has a striking number of similarities.) But thanks to a deeply committed cast—led by Helen Mirren as a British colonel who specializes in hunting down terrorists—this one is well worth your time.
Mirren portrays Col. Katherine Powell. She’s been in pursuit of a band of terrorists based in Kenya for several years. Thanks to dedicated field agents like Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi of Captain Phillips) and constant surveillance of drones supplied by the American military, she discovers that the terrorists are planning a suicide bombing of a public market in Nairobi.
What follows is an intense look at the choices involved in modern armchair warfare. It’s possible to bomb the terrorist headquarters remotely from a military base in Las Vegas, doubtless saving many lives as a result. However, the action will also create collateral damage, killing market vendors and their patrons.
Director Gavin Hood builds the tension slowly, letting it rise to an almost excruciating level. He provides a close look at a loving local family, including a nine-year-old girl (Aisha Takow) who sells bread at the market. As the urgency of the situation escalates, it becomes clear that passing the buck politically is winning out over the harsh demands of military expediency.
Soon everyone is feeling the psychological burden of having to make a choice, from Lt.-Gen. Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman, in one of his final performances) to drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad). By the time we reach the inevitable climax, we’ve been put through a gut-wrenching emotional war. It turns out to be as exhausting as it is illuminating.