Somewhere in Kenya, in a territory rife with Islamic fundamentalism and its resulting terrorism, a little Somali girl (Aisha Takow) plays in her backyard, waiting for her mother to finish baking the bread she sells on the street. At the same time, in London Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) awakens early and sees to her e-mails, which include a message telling her a group of terrorists have been pinpointed to a house not far away from the girl's home. Some of those have been identified as radicalised British and American passport holders, but the fact remains if they are to thwart any attack they may be planning, they will have to strike first by using the controversial drone technology...
There had been a fairly high profile film on the subject of drones and their use in warfare and anti-terrorist missions quite recently when Eye in the Sky was released; that was Good Kill, whose fretting over whether such a method of execution was impersonal or not tended to obfuscate the real issues, but not to worry as this effort covered them with admirable even-handedness. Admirable because it was neither aggressively gung ho nor lily-livered whinging, as Guy Hibbert's screenplay took an intriguing middle path to weigh up what was beneficial or damaging to the motives of using them. Did ethics enter into the question of saving lives when other lives may be lost in that process?
The conclusion it drew was that of course ethics were a major aspect of the technique, and they were by no means set aside when you guided a robot plane to visit death from above onto the heads of evildoers, especially when the chance of hitting an innocent, or indeed more than one, was a very pressing dilemma. Do you sacrifice one life to prevent the deaths of many more, or was that blameless victim one killing too far? Pretty heavy stuff, and in no way delivered with an action flick, go in with all guns blazing state of mind since nobody was going in at all, aside from in this case a spy on the ground, Farah (Barkhad Abdi), and even he was keeping a seriously low profile so as not to alert the many insurgents around the target.
The technology here resembled science fiction, and would have been used as much in films made even fifteen years before, with not simply its drones but also such accoutrements as a robot bird and beetle that contain a camera to record the terrorists' activities without being noticed. You could still tell computer graphics were being leaned on to craft the effects, and the screens the characters away from Africa are watching the footage from too, but it was a mark of how sincerely director Gavin Hood (who also took an acting role) took his subject that this never distracted from the ruminations over the issues arising. That he was guiding a high quality cast through this drama, drawn from real life, added to the importance of what we were watching and what was being carried out in the name of freedom.
Mirren brought her accustomed gravitas to the Colonel who is on the side of deploying the drone strike no matter what the consequences to the few civilians around since her beetle camera had picked up the terrorists arming themselves with suicide bomb vests, Aaron Paul was anguished but keeping it together as the pilot who pulls the trigger, and Alan Rickman in his final live action role could not have been better as the Lieutenant General who is all too aware of what was at stake, yet had to persuade the Government ministers to agree to blowing up the target. Why was this contentious? Initially it is because the ministers want the terrorists captured to stand trial, but then more emotively it is because the little girl set up her bread stall right outside the wall where the drone is set to fire. Although you could accuse this premise of contrivance for maximum conscience-needling, it brought into focus what had to be considered by the West and their allies in the terrorist-beset nations; you could save a lot of lives by killing potential killers, yet you could also radicalise those who have lost the innocent casualties in a horribly complicated conflict. Wisely, Eye in the Sky left us to draw our own conclusions. Music by Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian.