Above: An exclusive clip from “Eye in the Sky.”
A group of terrorists huddle in a house in an al-Shabab controlled area of Kenya. Among them are high-value individuals who perpetuate terror attacks throughout East Africa. They pray and then rig their suicide vests. Drones overhead beam the scene to allied forces, but time is running out and there is potential for collateral damage and civilian casualties.
The new movie “Eye In The Sky” tackles this scenario. The allied mission commander, British Army Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), orders a U.S. military drone strike on al-Shabab terrorist organizers and would-be suicide bombers, but her call is made more complicated by the fact that a little Kenyan girl (Aisha Takow) will likely be killed in the strike.
The film, which premiered last year at the Toronto Film Festival, shows a unique vision of how calls are made in the heat of battle. From Col. Powell and the drone pilot, 2nd Lt. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) to the highest rungs of the British and American governments, those watching the camera feeds decide the fates of the terrorists and the innocent bystander. They each make their own arguments in turn as the situation evolves.
The film shows a number of thought-provoking moral questions in the microcosm of this one drone strike. It weighs morality against the tactics of modern warfare. The characters try to minimize the damage done by drone strikes while suicide bombers prepare to kill as many people as possible. The film also questions the value of targeted killings over real human intelligence in the war on terror. But the moral calculus has to be figured out in a hurry. The clock is ticking on this potential strike. A decision must be reached before the terrorists are allowed to disappear into the sprawling city to carry out their suicide missions.
“Eye in the Sky” depicts the divide between civilian leaders and the men and women who conduct targeted operations. Civilian leaders want to achieve political goals but dislike the means by which they have to achieve them. The warfighters have to educate elected leaders on weighing the risks of collateral damage while the civilians have to remind the them about the propaganda value of targeted killings for the enemy. Neither side comes away clean as they argue over the fate of civilians who are otherwise going about their daily lives while this international debate unfolds.
The film’s final scene features the late Alan Rickman in his final onscreen role as British Lt. Gen. Frank Benson. In one of his finest moments as an actor, he delivers a harsh rebuke to a civilian Member of Parliament: “Never tell a soldier he does not know the cost of war.”
“Eye In the Sky” is a thrilling nail-biter that also asks questions about the ethics of fighting a high-tech war.