Eye in the Sky (2015)
The war film genre enables us to confront the realities of war by venting our inner fears and indulging our conceits of victory. But there are many kinds of war film. Depending on theme and purpose, war films can be a hybrid of the adventure, history, drama, thriller, science fiction and even comedy genres. They have recently morphed from trench-and-tank settings to globally dispersed and armchair directed war rooms with real-time engagement resembling a video game with highly sophisticated and deadly accurate killing technology. Far from fantasy war, Eye in the Sky (2015) raises moral and political dilemmas that potentially touch every citizen. Can you imagine one day democratically sharing the decision to bomb a target via your iPhone?
The story unfolds over a few hours when Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) and Lt. Col. Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman) must convince their political masters to change a ‘capture’ to a ‘kill’ mission when they unexpectedly get the opportunity to wipe out several top ranking terrorists in Nairobi. After getting the necessary political and military approvals, a weak link opens up at the trigger pulling end of the chain of command when the soldier authorised to fire the missile sees a young girl near the kill zone. It’s a classic morality play: do you save the girl and risk losing the opportunity to eliminate several really bad people who are being fitted with suicide vests that could kill hundreds of innocents? The resulting drama appears fast-paced but is more notable for what does not happen rather than what does because buck-passing between decision-makers delays the critical moment. It’s a tense thriller matched by sharp camerawork in what feels like real-time, making the audience both witnesses and judges of the events as they happen.
Mirren and Rickman are superb in their roles. Both skilfully portray the stresses and frustrations of working between the world of the professional soldier and that of the politician. This is not your standard war film and is more about the political dynamics of how war will be waged in the future. While miniaturised beetle drones transmitting high definition video from inside Satan’s den looks more like fantasy than war science, remember that almost half a century ago similar things were said about the HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The history of Sci-Fi shows that today’s imaginings is tomorrow’s reality. So the moral dilemmas in this film are very real. Eye in the Sky stands out as both a thoroughly gripping film and a consciousness raising experience.
Director: Gavin Hood
Stars: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul