Eye in the Sky
Alia loves her Hula-Hoop. Some of the Muslim elders in the village would balk at a young girl playing and twirling about with such a thing. But her father isn't so rigid. He even takes time to wrap the toy in colored tape for the girl. She is his joy.
It's been confirmed that the British subject Susan Danford, aka Ayesha AL-Hady, is among the Al-Shabaab operatives in Kenya. Unfortunately, she and the other terrorists in her group have moved into a house in the heavily armed militia zone. Colonel Katherine Powell determines that moving foot soldiers in for a capture attempt would result in a bloody conflict. Lieutenant General Frank Benson concurs.
Alia is a good girl. She works hard at her studies (carefully hiding the books when any elder comes by). And she always follows her mother's wishes.
There's no question that the joint British and American operation must transition from capture to kill. Col. Powell has tracked Danford for six years, and she insists that letting her slip away would be a grave mistake. Lawyers and officials with Lt. Gen. Benson are evaluating any legal or political complications arising from such an action.
When Alia is called upon to sell her mother's bread in the village square, she does so immediately and without complaint. She covers her head and wrists appropriately, and she savors the smell of the freshly baked wares.
A beetle drone has successfully entered the house in question and confirmed the identities and presence of numbers 2, 3 and 4 on the Al-Shabaab terrorist list. A cache of explosives and two suicide vests have been identified as well. Col. Powell alerts the American drone squad in Arizona while waiting for top-level approval.
Alia picks up the basket, carries it to a small table near the square. There she lays out a fresh cloth and places the loaves in an appealing display.
Col. Powell has the prerequisite collateral damage estimate calculated by a lieutenant. If the drones pinpoint the back bedroom with a single Hellfire missile it should take out the explosives and the terrorists in the adjoining room while demolishing the entire building. But without confirmation soon, they could lose the initiative!
Alia waits patiently to sell her mother's bread.
Inside the house, suicide bombers don their explosive vests, preparing to detonate them in a nearby crowd. The American drone hovers hundreds of feet above. Col. Powell waits impatiently for permission to fire.
Alia smiles happily at a passerby. She imagines spinning around with her Hula-Hoop.
Alia's arrival outside the terrorists' safe house prompts a number of people in the military mix to send new collateral damage information up the chain of command to try to assure the young girl's safety. The American pilot back in Arizona even requests further casualty assessments in order to keep from immediately following through on an order to fire the missile that would likely kill her. One British official is asked, "You would save her and risk 80 others?" To which she replies, "Yes!"
Later, a general rebuffs a critic who speaks of the "disgracefulness" of their carefully calculated actions. He recounts some of the terrorist-related tragedies he's witnessed and says, "Never tell a soldier that he doesn't know the cost of war." The American pilots support that declaration, and we see them emotionally torn by the orders they're given. And, so, all along the way, viewers are forced to grapple with huge ethical and moral—life-and-death—issues, none of which have easy answers. (More on that in my Conclusion.)
It's made evident that most of those in Alia's Kenyan village are strict observers of Islamic ideals and traditions.
A few men are covered only by towels in an American air base locker room.
We're shown a picture of a man murdered by terrorists, bleeding from a gunshot to the head. After a massive explosion, we see whole corpses and body parts amidst rubble. One woman, still alive, tries to crawl away but is hit by another missile. [Spoiler Warning] Alia and her parents are wounded and bloodied by the explosion. The young girl dies.
Crude or Profane Language
Three f-words and two s-words. Two misuses of Jesus' name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
The film displays Aeschylus' quote, "In war, truth is the first casualty." And, indeed, Col. Powell prompts an underling to lie about a collateral damage report in order to get permission to launch her attack. A British official is hit with food poisoning, and we see him sitting on a toilet with his pants around his ankles.
Forget the old days of wholesale firebombing or even strategic napalm strafing. Eye in the Sky tells us that modern warfare is quite a different animal.
In this day and age of video game-like drone strikes—pinpoint bombings piloted from a remote station located a continent or two away—war is more a battle of lawyers and political officials, we're told. Decision makers watch the action from Internet-connected conference rooms and wrangle over the legal vulnerabilities and propaganda implications of every move.
The film also suggests that while today's wars may not actually be more of a moral conundrum than they used to be, they certainly feel that way. And they're certainly engaged with in that way. Would you throw the switch and kill one innocent, this story asks, if doing so could save the lives of 80 or 100? What if that one innocent was a young girl? What if she had a loving family? What if she was your daughter?
Through tense, clock-ticking drama and well-acted interactions, Eye in the Sky raises many questions about the new gray areas of military conflict. We feel the soul-stretching stress, watch the grit and death, ponder the rights and wrongs.
And with all of its intentionally unanswered questions, the movie makes one thing very clear: In spite of the latest strategy changes and new technologies and the ability to achieve almost surreal separation from the battlefield, war and the evil hatred evidenced by terrorism are still horrible, life-rending things. And no one touched by them walks away whole.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell; Aaron Paul as Steve Watts; Alan Rickman as Lieutenant General Frank Benson; Aisha Takow as Alia Mo'Allim; Iain Glen as James Willett
March 11, 2016
June 28, 2016