Movie Review: “Eye in the Sky”
One time, I was at Kandahar AB with my feet up watching “Breaking Bad.” Around one hour later, I was over Helmand province at the 20-mile ring around a target. I was feeling pretty proud of myself getting to the area so fast, ready to rock.
I was told to “stand by.” Then, I heard a voice say, “Rifle.” I instantly recognized my friend on the radio. My friend who was back in the United States. I squinted into the targeting pod display from my great distance from the target and watched a little puff of smoke rise from the coordinates.
Go away, they said to me. It was jarring to hear my friend steal my work from the other side of the globe.
Jarring like the movie I just saw. I recommend it. I’ll try not to spoil it below.
I predicted that “Eye in the Sky” would depict decision makers wrestling with choices while getting ridiculously good information. Not only that, but they were getting it from James Bond devices. Strike One.
For someone in the service, there were some personal interactions depicted in the US Air Force that were ridiculous. And how our folks were answering directly to the British. Some other technical minutiae. Invisible to anyone outside the service, but still Strike Two. It’s Hollywood after all.
Sobbing while pulling the trigger, while expected for dramatic effect, is ridiculous. Strike Three.
So, why would I say go see the movie? It poses good questions and raises good issues.
One. Is the death of civilians caused by “us” worse than the death of civilians caused by “them”? Questions about proportionality and strategy.
Two. It portrays civilians in leadership positions over the military clutching their pearls and gasping at the horrors of war. Alan Rickman’s last line in the movie is priceless. The actor’s parting gift to the world in his last part before he died. I routinely mentally ask an imagined horrified civilian, “You don’t like what we do? Maybe you should pay a little more damn attention to the situations you place us in. Yeah, you.” Because, everyone is culpable, whether they want to admit it or not.
Three. All the decision makers in the movie wrestle with how they can accomplish their goals without hurting civilians. That part rings true.
(I digress for a minute. Collateral damage estimates and the way they are portrayed ring true. If not in detail than at least with their intent. Our side takes a great deal of care to make sure noncombatants are not harmed. This is true. Our opponents do not. When I hear people describe how I behave in combat as if I were Yosemite Sam running around laying waste to whole villages, it makes me furious. We value life. Our opponents do not. If you disagree with me, buy me a whisky (or a whiskey) and I’ll tell you how you have your head buried somewhere very dark and stinky.)
Back to the third reason to see the movie. While all the leaders are gnashing their teeth over what to do, they never consider the possibility that the dude can miss. What if a fin goes hard over on the missile and it goes stupid? What if the drone operator makes a mistake? What if the communications burp right when they need clearance to fire? The assumption the movie makes is that weapons (and people firing them) are perfect. They are smart. The weapons are “smart.” Smart to the Nth degree. So smart, that the movie never even considers that anything can go wrong or different with the weapons delivery. Their discussion of collateral damage is based on the idea that everything goes perfectly once they say, “Go.” This is my original idea and third reason to go see it: Watch while thinking, “What if they miss?” The foregone conclusion is that they won’t. The truth is that things can go perfectly…wrong.
Go see the movie and see if I’m crazy to think that people have come to expect this kind of sterile, infallible, laboratory warfare. I think the movie does a good job overall of depicting how that is (and has been and always will be) impossible.