For six years, Colonel Catherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has has been tracking down Susan Danford (Lex King), a British citizen turned terrorist. Finally, with the help of American drone technology, the quarry has been located in Kenya, where a special forces team is poised to capture her.
When a cute insect-like drone enters the target house the various personnel watching in Kenya, America and England, see that two men inside the house are being kitted up as suicide bombers.
The command changes from “capture” to “kill”. Drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is about to launch a Hellfire missile when a young girl sets up her bread stall right outside the target compound. He and his assistant have earlier watched little Alia in her parents’ yard, playing with a hula hoop. We, the audience, also know that Alia’s parents are covertly educating her despite the dominant fundamentalist regime.
With technology the nature of warfare may have changed but it is still the pilot who must press the button no matter who in the “kill chain” gives the command. Much to Colonel Powell’s frustration, Watts delays the launch.
The moral dilemma thus posed constitutes the crux of the film. Should the mission be aborted to protect the life of this one child, the two suicide bombers would kill many civilians, including children. Furthermore, Danford would remain free to organise more al-Shabab terrorist attacks.
As a tense intercontinental debate ensues, Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) is on the ground in Nairobi, outside the target compound, controlling the insect drone and trying valiantly to clear the scene without arousing suspicion. Time is running out.
Writer Guy Hibbert and director Gavin Hood deftly manipulate the steadily mounting tension as Colonel Powell feels that she is losing control of the operation. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukas’ close-ups of the principal characters’ faces capture their emotions showing through, no matter how controlled and professional they endeavour to appear. The performances are uniformly excellent in all locations.
Eye in the Sky is no flag-waving celebration of war. It is, rather, a stark reminder of the cruelly absurd, destructive nature of war. As Lieutenant-General Benson (the late Alan Rickman, in his final role) remarks, “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”
Confronting but utterly compelling viewing.