I’m sure there were noble intentions behind the new war film “Eye in the Sky.” An exploration of the rules of engagement, wartime ethics and moral dilemmas when dealing with drones should have been compelling, but this film isn’t engrossing, is far from disturbing, and is neither intelligent nor thrilling. Even if you discount the absolute worst parts of the film, including the comically mediocre computer generated drones (some shaped like birds and beetles!) and the pitifully irrelevant attempts at exciting action sequences, this film is still a tremendous failure.
Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren give performances that are up to their usual high standards but even they are pretty boring. And Aaron Paul, who has squandered all of the goodwill he earned as Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad,” proves once again that he’s the sole overlord and master of teary eyed close ups (which is a good thing because that’s all he is given to do in films nowadays).
The entire plot of the movie revolves around drone pilots in the U.S. waiting for instruction from the British government and military to launch a drone strike on a house filled with several high level terrorist targets. If they bomb the house there will be some collateral damage, including a cute little innocent African girl who loves to hula hoop and is selling bread on the corner. Instead of a nail biting, moral wringing, thoughtful thriller about the true cost of war, the film turns into an absolutely silly “will they or won’t they” exercise about how quickly this kid can sell her 8 loaves of bread. I am not joking. Get ready for dialogue gems like “he’s buying a loaf of bread, now there are only 6 loaves left!” The entire audience (including me) eventually started laughing at this, and I’m fairly certain that’s not what the filmmakers intended.
No doubt the increase in drone warfare is a touchy and tricky subject, but this throwaway film does nothing to raise any important questions and instead relies on scene after scene of competent actors repeatedly asking “can we bomb them yet?”
“Eye in the Sky” is a thriller about the new reality of conflict — one where terrorism is fought by powerful countries with drones and other long-range weapons that take the humanity out of killing — but, contrary to what its trailer tells you, the movie is far from being an updated modern version of “Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”
Like the 2015 movie “Good Kill,” the warriors fighting against terrorism in “Eye in the Sky” are not on the ground, but housed far away in bunkers, war rooms, and combat centers in the United Kingdom and in the U.S. where they are able to observe real-time events and act on them through their drones. But is killing via drone really impersonal, or are our drone pilots and those who command them still forced to deal with sticky issues of morality, weighing the murder of a few against saving many lives?
These are interesting questions, but after having seen two movies on the subject, I’m not so sure that cinema is the right place to explore them. In modern drone warfare, it is no longer kill-or-be-killed, but instead decisions are driven by the security and safety interests of state writ large. Thorny issues of morality are hard to resolve in these situations. “Eye in the Sky” effectively conveys the difficulty of making these large decisions — and that there are actual human beings making them — but in the process it becomes a bit paint-by-numbers. It may not be the fault of the filmmakers; it’s probably very difficult to make a movie exciting when the most tense scene involves someone selling loaves of bread.
Supported by strong performances with a stellar cast (Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul), this movie is better than your average Redbox / Netflix thriller that you might rent on a night when you are running low on entertainment options, but not by much.