don't count your chickens
the man who came to dinner

by request: eye in the sky (gavin hood, 2015)

We had a cancelled engagement to watch a movie, so my wife said we should just go the theater ourselves. She wanted to see Eye in the Sky, so off we went.

The old-timers whose names you recognize (Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman) were very good, as was the acting in general. Hood does well at ratcheting up the suspense, even though for most of the movie, nothing happens, or rather, we wait to see if something will happen. The plot revolves around a decision to send a drone strike into a neighborhood, and there are some enlightening moments, as British intelligence and military, working in two separate places in England, coordinate the action with American “pilots” manning the drone software out of Las Vegas. If you ever wondered what it might feel like to launch destruction from halfway around the world, only seeing your targets on a monitor, this movie will show you.

The military adds what amounts to comic relief, although the point is hardly funny: how much collateral damage is acceptable? While Mirren, a Colonel in charge of the operation, and Rickman, as a General talking politicians through the paces necessary to approve the strike, are willing both to accept responsibility and to attempt to derive “reasoned” solutions, the politicians keep “referring up”, refusing to make a decision until their higher-up has approved. Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of State impatiently gives his approval and goes back to playing ping pong in Beijing. (That is pretty much the only time the film seems to take a stand ... Americans are always ready to blast away, Brits can’t get off the pot ... literally in the case of the British Foreign Secretary, suffering from food poisoning in Singapore.) In his own way, Hood won’t get off the pot, either. Eye in the Sky is designed to work as a thriller, but it is resolutely apolitical about what is going on.

Does it work on its own level? Yes, although it depends too much on obvious attempts to tug at our hearts. When the notion of collateral damage seems too abstract, a darling little girl with a hula hoop is inserted into the picture. From the beginning, it is clear that the girl and her family are only in the movie to provide emotional appeals to the audience. The mission’s analysis devolves to “is this little girl more important that the dozens of people terrorists will kill if we don’t blow them all up first?” As one person says, “If they kill 80 people, we win the propaganda war. If we kill one child, they do.” It’s as if the Normandy invasion hinged on whether or not the Allies can move a little doggie out of harm’s way before they attack.

In the abstract, the technology in the film is fascinating. The title is quite accurate ... everything on the ground can be seen, in detail, from far up in the sky, and when a closer look is necessary, a few ingenious (and apparently almost ready for real-life prime time) miniatures step into play.

Sometimes a movie tries to do more than it achieves, and you give it credit for the effort. But I don’t think Hood is trying to say anything big here. If there were a political point to be made, the little girl would be relatively unimportant. But because Hood wants to grab the audience, the girl becomes central. It adds to the suspense, if you like that kind of emotional manipulation. But it limits the scope of the movie as a whole. I am not a fan of that kind of manipulation, but I’ll try to be semi-objective and say 7/10.

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