Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 13, 2023)
A take on the nature of modern warfare, 2016’s Eye in the Sky looks at how technology influences combat. This comes out via the use of drones and remote methods combined with intelligence not necessarily observed directly on the ground.
British Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirred) leads a joint US/UK team that uses drones to detain terrorists in Kenya. When surveillance indicates a suicide bombing threat, the operation leaps from “capture” to “kill” status.
As US pilot Lieutenant Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) nears execution of this mission, a young child named Alia (Aisha Takow) enters the “kill zone”. This sets off a major conflict about the nature of “collateral damage”.
Undeniably, Eye confronts serious issues. Civilians inevitably die during war, so the question becomes how many of these deaths the “good guys” can accept.
In other words, we look at the Wrath of Khan concept: do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one? Does the ability to prevent the deaths of many overrule the moral imperative not to knowingly murder one innocent?
That last aspect of the story becomes a crucial aspect of Eye. The fact the military authorities involved know Alia will probably die creates a different story than one in which a civilian inadvertently gets killed.
When I went into Eye, I hoped it’d offer an intelligent and incisive view of this difficult question. Instead, I found a pretty typical thriller with some mawkish melodrama thrown in for good measure.
Not that Eye flops, as it comes with a generally compelling story. Despite the lackluster execution, the basic concept remains intriguing, and the movie musters enough energy and tension to keep the viewer with it.
However, I simply hoped for something more intellectual and less “standard thriller” than this. While Eye touches on moral and ethical issues, it rarely rises above the level of basic pulse-pounder.
Which is does to some degree, as the movie creates a decent level of tension. I just can’t help but feel the flick dumbs down the complexity to emphasize the more “Hollywood” side of things.
This comes with too many contrivances, especially related to Alia. The movie pulls at our heartstrings with an adorable girl who sells bread to help her family.
Eye works overtime to make her as cuddly and loveable as possible. A film without these emotional investments would offer a more involving view of the ethical questions without the basic melodrama.
I suspect the cast involved here elevated my expectations, as we get a solid professional group. With Mirren, Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi and more, Eye comes with a good roster of talent.
And the movie does remain reasonably involving. It simply lacks the depth it needs, as it leans toward too many thriller clichés to really hit the mark.