“Eye in the Sky” Probes Western Emotions About Drones
Citizens of western countries don’t really care much about the casualties of war in places like Yemen, Syria, or Northern and Eastern Africa. There’s plenty of western people who think critically about drones, who voice opposition to certain military operations and ask thoughtful questions about what goes on, but emotionally, we’re detached by a wide range of factors. By creating a realistic, technical bridge between people on the ground and those making decision at the highest level, Eye in the Sky paves a clear path that allows us westerners to feel somewhat connected to the impact the war on terror from above is having in the region.
Eye in the Sky is set primarily in four distinct locations: a block on the outskirts of Nairobi, an Air Force Base in Las Vegas, a military intelligence room in Surrey, and some type of bureaucratic board room in London. Information travels upward through this chain through live video feeds of Nairobi, and sometimes through requests, while commands travel downwards toward the agents closest to the action. Due to the nature of the situation, those who will be affected most by decisions made far away are least aware of their fate. The camera, therefore, never gets too close to these characters, and we never learn much about them.
Eye in the Sky plays off this dynamic by giving greatest emotional weight to two drone pilots at the Air Force Base in Las Vegas. A significant distinction is made between pressing a button and ordering someone else to press a button by showing Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox, the drone’s operators, fight back tears and directly question the orders of their superiors . Helen Mirin’s character, Colonel Katherine Powell, as well as Alan Rickman and various other upper level bureaucrats, however, come off far more callous and calculating, often using percentages and body counts to make their points. Deciding if their demeanor’s are moral failures or strategic facades is all a matter of perspective. No matter what moral reading a viewer might take from Gavin Hood’s film, it’s clear that it views drone warfare as an extremely troublesome form of violence.
Eye in the Sky’s strength is its ability to maintain a suspenseful tone through most of its running time, but there are moments of bureaucratic bumbling that feel like weak imitations of The Thick of It. Humor could have been used effectively in certain parts of the script as a release valve for characters under immense amount of stress, but the attempted laughs in this script fall flat because they involve characters who have little at stake. Overall, however, these moments don’t last long enough to detract from the overall tension.