Saturday, March 19, 2016

"Eye in the Sky": most intense military drone film yet, and a terrible dilemma in Kenya

Eye in the Sky” is easily the most intense film on the subject of drone combat (and the moral implications including “cowardice”) to appear yet.  Directed by Gavin Hood and written by Guy Hibbert, the “indie” film has big promotion for larger art-house theaters. Hood plays one of the British military officers in the film.

The basic premise is that British intelligence has located a female terror suspect in Kenya, with her husband in a shantytown house.  It has drones looking like roaches and birds, powered by cell phones operated by local spies, to gather precise intelligence for a police raid from the Kenyan police.  But when intelligence shows that a suicide bombing is being planned, possibly again in a shopping mall, the orders move up to do a strike. With the help of US Air Force drones managed from Nevada, it uses very intricate systems to carry out strikes.  The technology is quite fascinating, especially facial recognition processing.  How often are you sure you recognize someone you’ve met only once before?

Helen Mirren plays Colonel Powell, who directs the effort from a military base near London.  Her son (Bob Chappell) is on her staff, and often questions her judgment.  She is caught in a legal and political bind, as a small child sets up a bread stand near the house.  There are legal standards for the risk of civilian “collateral damage” that is permissible, but the political stakes are high:  if a terror attack is prevented, no one knows, but the world knows Muslim children were killed by western drone power. Understandably, this sort of situation leads to “strong man” thinking by political aspirants like Donald Trump. It was Trump who started his reality show with selling lemonade, just as the little girl in the burqa sells tasty bread, the simplest capitalism.  And the local spy using the phone knows how to play the street market system.

The screenplay offers a lot of back and forth between British and US commanders and politicians (one of them played by the late Alan Rickman), some reached by cell phone all of the world.  One of the politicians is speaking in Singapore and is ill from food poisoning, nearing vomiting as he gets the call Another is playing ping pong with teenagers in Beijing. There’s a lot of suspense in this at first, but over 80 minutes of this it wears thin, until the strikes come.  And tragedy cannot be prevented

The official site is here (Bleecker Street and E-One).

The film was shot on location near Capetown, South Africa. However, some long shots actually taken around Nairobi appear to have been used.

I saw the film late Saturday afternoon at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA, before a nearly sold out crowd.

Wikipedia attribution link for Nairobi picture by author “123”,  under CCAA 4.0 International Relationships.

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