By Lucas Macce-Feiler, Contributor
[Bleecker Street; 2016]
In one of his final roles before losing his battle with pancreatic cancer, Alan Rickman went out with a bang in Eye In The Sky. Figuratively, Rickman turned in a stern and sturdy performance as Lieutenant General Frank Benson, a high-ranking member of the British military. In the literal sense, Rickman’s character is an integral part of a complex system of multilateralism in the face of international terrorism, culminating in a heated argument over the use of drone warfare.
Utilizing advanced reconnaissance, Benson and his allies discover that the notorious Al-Shabaab militants they intend to “capture and not kill” plan to execute imminent suicide bombings, using impressionable, radicalized teenagers as martyrs. Colonel Katherine Powell, played to a tee by Helen Mirren, sees no other option than to strike the target house to prevent further bloodshed. Powell does everything in her power to jump through the hoops of international politics for what she believes to be the best option.
Powell has one roadblock: the pilot of the drone. 2nd lieutenant Steve Watts, played by Aaron Paul, is seconds from pulling the trigger when he sees a little girl selling bread just outside the suspected house. Channeling the raw emotion that made his “Breaking Bad” character so enticing, Paul aborts the mission last minute, demanding a “collateral damage estimate.”
Watts’ decision to buck military command at the last moment is no small feat. The idea of denying a commanding officer is almost pure fantasy, but such is life in today’s international arena, where close allies have to make decisions thousands of miles apart. When the chance of the girl’s death comes in around 75 percent, it sends panic throughout the upper ranks of both US and British forces. There are even further legal and ethical implications, as the suspected suicide bombers are an American and a British national.
Virtually every top foreign policy official has a say one way or another, with the decision going as high as the British Prime Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State. No one seems ready to fully endorse the strike, but no one seems eager to watch a village square be showered in blood and chaos. With a possible foreign policy catastrophe on its hands, the British and American military officials, namely Benson and Powell, seek a way to get the girl out of the blast radius and receive clearance for the strike.
There isn’t too much action throughout the film, but the tension between international actors keeps the pace at breakneck speed. Volleying between the British war room, the British intelligence bureau, and an Air Force base in Nevada, the arguments between the separate groups only seem to grey as the film wages on. Sometimes, tough decisions have to be made. Whether correct or incorrect, ethical or unethical, multilateral attacks on international terrorism don’t lend themselves to brainstorming.
Eye In The Sky concludes with no one feeling all that great about what occurs, but that’s what makes the film so effective. Rarely—if ever–does everyone come out clean.