Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky succeeds as a tense and strongly acted thriller which presents a moral test to the audience without being preachy. That’s a compliment to screenwriter Guy Hibbert for not feeling the need to bash us over the head with whatever his personal politics might be. We don’t know and don’t really need to.
The subject of drone warfare and its prevalence in recent conflicts is one that audiences will bring their own leanings to. This film presents a scenario in a matter of fact manner with characters on different sides of the fence. That situation is in the country of Kenya where a trio of high value targets are in the same location. The British government is in charge of deciding how to kill or capture them and many of the shots are being called by iron willed Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren). Her chain of command is superseded by fellow soldier General Benson (Alan Rickman in his second to last role). Their experience on the ground makes them simpatico when it comes to decisions, but they’re in a constant morass of government officials kicking the can up the chain.
It isn’t long before the capture order becomes a kill order and it’s an American Air Force pilot (Aaron Paul) tasked with dropping the drone from his base in Nevada. There’s one significant complication: a little girl is selling bread right outside the target zone. The question of her being likely collateral damage weigh on the conscience of our characters to varying degrees.
There are moments in the Sky that can’t help but be somewhat humorous even considering the potentially tragic circumstances, as many of the people shown can’t bring themselves to make any final decision. You may not feel like you should be amused by it, but there are times where it feels like the intent. This also extends to small moments where real life gets in the way of those making these massive judgment calls, from children’s toy shopping for one to a bout of food poisoning for another.
The acting is all first-rate with special credit to the always dependable Mirren and Rickman, whose characters disdain for their higher-ups indecisiveness is barely bubbling under the surface. When Eye concludes, it has managed to take the time to lay out the pros and cons of each momentous decision. Yet it invites us to make our judgment call on whether it was all worth it. In this case, that’s the sign of some filmmakers respecting their audience and successfully keeping us enthralled throughout.
***1/2 (out of four)