“Eye in the Sky” is a close look at modern warfare, fought remotely with drones, hightech cameras that look like birds or beetles, and real time connectivity to the drone operators in Las Vegas, face recognition technicians in Hawaii, political decision makers in Britain, America, and China, and intelligence agents risking their lives on the ground in territory held by a hostile militia.
The plot: There are a couple of terrorists that a British colonel has been tracking for years. They are bad bad people, responsible for many death. One is a British citizen and the original mission, overseen by political advisors and lawyers, is to capture her and take her back to Britain for trial. But capture turns out to be impossible. They’ve been tracked down to a safe house and it’s a perfect time to eliminate them with a missile strike. But there’s a problem. Changing from a capture plan to an assassination requires political approval.
So the movie is really about who will make the decision. Politicians dither and insist on deferring to higher authorities. After the series of buck passing, approval is given. A missile strike is authorized. But then… a young girl is selling bread just outside the house, and there’s a very good chance she will be killed too. Collateral damage. Is that acceptable? This launches a whole new round of buck passing. The military feel it is a necessity, and killing the girl would be unfortunate but worth it because of the lives that will be saved if the terrorists are killed.
Then the remote camera sees two young men being fitted with suicide vests. They are preparing to find a crowded location where they can kill as many innocent people as possible. If they leave the house there will be no way to stop them.
That does it. Approval is finally given. But the young airman who must pull the trigger rebells and demands a new collateral damage assessment. We bounce around the globe to ever higher levels of government while the British Colonel tries to get a decision out of the bureaucrats and policy wonks. Legal advice is sought. Rules of engagement are cited. An agent on the ground, in a very risky spot controlling the remote camera, tries to buy the girl’s bread and send her home. He is recognized and barely escapes with his life.
Spoiler alert: It is a very good movie, and I hope you will see it. So don’t read further unless you have seen the movie, don’t intend to see it, or don’t care. I’m giving it all away.
Finally, after many delays and objections, much discussion, much buck passing, and a second attempt to get the girl out of the way, the approval is given. The missile is launched.
The terrorists are killed, mission accomplished, but the girl is terribly injured. Her mother and father flag down a militia patrol jeep. The soldiers set their machine gun aside to carry the family to the hospital. Doctors and nurses rush to help. Will the girl live? Sadly, no. She dies. The mother and father collapse in grief over her body. It’s been gripping. It’s been good.
And then, after all the great drama, the solid performances, the tension, the plot turns that work, after all this great stuff the movie fails. It’s in the denouement, after the resolution. The audience is treated to a number of scenes in which each character in turn expresses shock and remorse, variously guilt and anger, recriminations and rationalizations. “Don’t EVER tell a soldier that he doesn’t know the cost of war.” And finally we jump the shark into bathos with a flashback of the dead girl playing in her yard. The message: War is hell and innocent children die and we all feel terrible about it.
And that’s a bullshit message.
So, how should the movie have ended? There could have been a teenaged boy who is part of the girls extended family, just a background character, maybe her older brother. Brief scenes show that he’s a moderate, loves his baby sister, wants the girl to be educated, doesn’t like the fanatics who are terrorizing everybody, wants more freedom and fewer restrictions. After the girl is killed we see this boy being fitted with a suicide vest. He’s been radicalized.
Instead of a soppy emotional ending, we see that the effort to fight terrorism has created a new terrorist. Because this is what is happening. An American military expert said it: We are creating terrorists faster than we can kill them.
That’s how the movie could have ended. It could have said something really important about the war on terror. Such a pity. It came so close.