Eye in the Sky

Apr 4, 2016

The eyes have it.

Eye in the Sky

Grade: B

Director: Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins:Wolverine)

Screenplay: Guy Hibbert (Five Minutes of Heaven)

Cast: Helen Mirren (Trumbo), Alan Rickman (Lee Daniels The Butler)

Rating: R

Runtime: 102 min

by John DeSando

“Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.” Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman)

Eye in the Sky is about the cost, mostly the collateral damage, of drone strikes. And the eyes on earth are either misty or crying because a little girl is potentially going to be part of the damage to a Somalian compound in  Kenya. Like Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill starring Ethan Hawke, this thriller emphasizes the damage to the soldiers who push the buttons.

Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in charge of capturing an enemy, an objective that turns into “prosecuting the target” (yes, jargon has to play a part in a story about essentially a military operation). Benson (Alan Rickman’s last performance, showing why the gifted actor will be missed) in Whitehall with the U.K. prime minister’s reps and other contributing command centers such as Hawaii for image analysis and Las Vegas for drone pilots give the drama and guilt a global feel while emphasizing the distance from the target and the menace of the quiet eye in the sky.

Although the pic tends to the maudlin and unrealistic with some officers and experienced warriors literally crying over the little girl, basic anguish about the moral and legal components of war seems all too real. While Col. Powell pushes to have the chance of collateral damage be 45% rather than its probable 65% (“In war, truth is the first casualty,” Aeschylus, the film’s epigraph), she can only hope the little girl escapes the blast and civilian oversight accepts her decision.

I once thought the real sufferers were the grunts fighting mano a mano; I now see because of the realistic depiction of drone warfare in films like Eye in the Sky, the sufferers are also those who, thousands of miles away, pinpoint targets and pull triggers. Thank goodness filmmakers expose us to the kind of wars we now wage—when asked at the ballot booth to support or deny war on a global stage, we can make informed decisions.  In addition, we can enjoy the thrilling chess game between bad guys and good guys back home and wherever.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at