Eye in the Sky, rated PG-13
This war film, chock-full of ethical decisions, is directed by Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game), who also stars in the film as Lt. Colonel Ed Walsh. The screenplay is written by Guy Hibbert.
The film features a strong cast led by the always excellent Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren (The Queen) as British Colonel Katherine Powell, Academy Award nominee Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) as undercover soldier Jama Farah, and the late Alan Rickman (Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films), as British Lieutenant General Frank Benson, in one of his last roles. Rickman died of pancreatic cancer at age 69 in January, 2016.
The film takes place in several locations. Powell is located at a military base in Sussex. She is in charge of a British operation tracking Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi, Kenya. Numbers 2, 3 and 4 on the Al-Shabaab terrorist list are being closely monitored by drones (the “eyes in the sky”) by British and U.S. military personnel, the latter of which are located on military base in Las Vegas. The terrorists are now inside a house in a populated area of Nairobi. Among those terrorists is British subject Susan Danford, now Ayesha AL-Hady, who Powell has tracked for six years and has never been so close to capturing. A radicalized U.S. citizen is also among the terrorists.
Lieutenant General Benson is at Whitehall with the Attorney General, British Foreign Secretary and others monitoring the situation. When Colonel Powell informs Benson that the terrorists are planning an attack that could kill up to 80, she states that the mission needs to change from one of capture (which Benson has approval for) to one of kill. It’s Benson’s job to secure approval for Lt. Colonel Walsh’s inexperienced drone pilots (Steve Watts portrayed by Aaron Paul and Carrie Gershon played by Phoebe Fox) to fire Hellfire missiles (lethal drone strikes) from Nevada. A fourth location is the American Geospatial Analysis Unit in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which uses facial recognition to confirm the identities of people in drone images.
Because the house is in a populated area, it is likely that others in the area would be killed by a drone strike. The film spends a good deal of time (too much time in my opinion, resulting in the lowering of my rating by a ½ star), focusing on one particular person. This leads to an ethical decision and the hesitancy amongst the necessary leaders and legal personnel that Benson needs to secure the approval from to move forward. We often hear them say that they must refer the decision up to the next in the chain of command, while Benson continually presses for a decision.
One of the questions facing the decision makers is whether Britain can go after one of its own citizens if that citizen is plotting an act of terrorism within the borders of a friendly country. There are military decisions that need to be made taking into account collateral damage estimates that have been provided by Colonel Powell, as well as the potential political fallout from the decision. And time is ticking away. If action isn’t taken quickly, the terrorists could get away – or worse.
The film is rated R for war violence and some adult language, including a few abuses of Jesus’ name.