Eye In The Sky is the first big drone warfare movie that we’ve all been assuming was coming (due to mediocrity, Good Kill doesn’t count). Thankfully, it’s also a pretty good one with a central concept so clever that it might actually be better than the final movie. Bleakly comedic, tense, and button pushing, while also underlining the odd sense of the bureaucratic mundanity that defines much of modern warfare, Eye In The Sky isn’t merely a boiler plate war movie that tosses in drones to feel contemporary. This is a war story that could only exist now.
The film takes place predominantly in real time. Helen Mirren leads a secret British military task force assigned to take down a top Somali terrorist. Their mission was initially supposed to be a capture mission until their flying cameras spotted bombers ready to attack. From there, the mission changes from “capture” to “kill” and the filmmakers examine the number of people involved in such a decision and how bizarrely the process plays out as time ticks away and the burden of choice is passed. Director Gavin Hood’s cameras go everywhere from the mahogany-smelling boardrooms of Alan Rickman’s general to the Vegas bunker of Aaron Paul’s drone pilot and the dusty Somali streets about to explode. Throughout it all, the tone varies from sweaty palmed tension to awkward Strangelove-esque hilarity.
Eye In The Sky purposefully explores the number of people involved in the drone warfare decision making process and how much easier (or harder) it can be to order a kill strike from an air-conditioned office than on the field with bloodstained hands. At times it’s amusing as a surreal vision of office politics and at times it’s gut-wrenching as human casualties are reduced to justifiable statistics. Without a doubt, it’s a unique war movie that hasn’t been seen before and a pretty great idea. Yet, at the same time for material so real and pressing, Hood and his cast often devolve into unfortunate melodrama that feels far too familiar. When the movie is working, it’s fascinating. When it’s not, it feels like mildly wasted opportunity.
This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2015 coverage.