The ethics of war are constantly evolving—new questions must be raised as more powerful weaponry and technology is invented. As such, we now live in a world where entire wars can be fought not from the battlefields, but from an armchair while drinking coffee. Impossible decisions that would normally be made with gunfire and artillery shells going off are now made in conference rooms far from the fighting. One press of a button can send drone strikes and missiles raining down from the sky without the enemy realizing until it’s too late.
Along with that push of a button comes dozens of questions, calculations, and hesitations before it is actually pushed. This is the type of war we have now, and it is also the type that director Gavin Hood and screen writer Guy Hibbert try to portray in Eye in the Sky as they highlight the vast complexities that now present soldiers who never even have to leave the comfort of their own city to be the person who ends the lives of citizens and enemies in other countries.
Taking place across the globe, Eye in the Sky follows various players trying to ensure the deaths of a group of high-ranking terrorists in Kenya. The officer behind the operation, Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has been working towards this moment for years. Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman in his last live-action role) serves as her go-between with their higher-ups in government. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) are the conflicted pilots in control of the drone. And Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) is an agent within Kenya working to take down the terrorists. The targets need to be taken out, but when the life of a little girl comes into the fray, the decision to push the button becomes an ethical dilemma.
Despite a jumbled opening that takes just a tad too long trying to set up all of the moving pieces, the film shifts towards a delicate slow burn that builds both emotions and tensions. Continuously mixing in new layers of questioning and ethics, there is a relentless tug-of-war between those in the film and us in the audience as we are frequently wrestling with our own opinions on whether or not the button should be pushed. Hibbert’s riveting script is sound; he does not make the decision an easy one—this is war, after all.
Across the board, the performances are superb. With Paul’s hesitation and humanity, Mirren’s determination, and Rickman’s bitter realism, the cast handles the weighty subject matter and ethics with sincerity and authenticity. There are no heroes in the film, though, as each are soldiers who come into work each day and deal with some of the hardest decisions imaginable—and then they go home to their wives, kids, husbands and families.
As war evolves, so too must war films. Eye in the Sky is on the forefront, asking the questions that now need to be answered as technology allows us to wage full-on wars from thousands of miles away. However, Eye in the Sky does not make any stances on whether war is just or not. It lays down the evidence and asks the audience to decide for themselves—a decision you’ll be struggling with long after the movie ends.