I watched this stream on Netflix last year, but I did not have a copy for review. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s Eye in the Sky from 2016 out of Entertainment One and Raindog Films. It’s about drone warfare, and it wants you to think through the morality of remote control combat. We shall see.
The war is in Nairobi in Kenya, where some terrorists are making plans to carry out a suicide bomb attack within the city. We see a dusty neighborhood where life struggles for normality despite a desperate tension barely beneath the surface. Here we see a father, Musa Mo’Allim (Armaan Haggio), prepare a hula hoop for his daughter Alia (Aisha Takow). Due to her unquestioned innocence, she is to be the plot’s central theme, the collateral sacrifice in the pursuit of a higher goals.
It is morning, and a Reaper (Predator) drone is overhead, monitoring the activities of a terrorist group in Alia’s neighborhood, a poor section of this major city
Thousands of miles away in England the sun is just coming up, and a woman prepares for a day at work. She is “Colonel Katherine Powell, a UK military intelligence officer” (Helen Mirren). This scene is pivotal in portraying an aspect of modern war. Increasingly war is not up close and personal.
The Reaper relentlessly flies its mission, possibly unnoticed by those on the ground.
The center of attention is a particular room in a particular building in Alia’s neighborhood. Inside the room combatants in an unsymmetrical war are preparing to strike at their enemy, which is assumed to be Western style civilization. A man sits for a martyr’s video, which will be dispensed after he has completed his deadly mission.
Outside in the adjacent streets, counter forces are quietly marshaled. Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) is an undercover Kenyan NIS agent monitoring events close up. Not explained is why Kenyan government forces cannot move in and neutralized the growing threat. We see Jama constantly in danger of being comprised by the gang of insurgents who permeate the area.
Tiny drones with audio and video capability penetrate the terrorists’ complex and obtain information that turns the mission from the capture of two operatives to interdiction with prejudice of the suicide bombing.
The film emphasizes the dispersion of command and control and also the attached bureaucracy involved. Disparate locations involved in the operation include an American base in Nevada and various other points on the globe where official approval must come from traveling officials. The need to observe strict niceties of killing produces a mad scramble to cross all the ‘t’s and to dot all the ‘i’s before an innocent girl’s life is put in jeopardy.
Tension builds as Alia takes loaves of bread her mother has baked and sells them in the street adjacent to the drone target. When Jama attempts to resolve the situation by purchasing her remaining loaves, it only encourages Alia, who brings more bread from home.
The final scenes show the targeting reticle centered on the bomber’s room as Alia completes her last sale and prepares to depart. The Hellfire missile strikes the building, flinging parts into the air and upending the white car. Alia’s small body is crushed by the debris, and she dies shortly after in a hospital. The bomber thread has been neutralized, hundreds of innocent Kenyan citizens have been saved, and modern warfare has done its job.
The obvious theme is the impersonality of modern warfare, and underlying that is the perception of drone attacks as somehow unsporting. In olden days fighting men faced each other with clubs and axes. Then smarter men figured that placing a point on the end of a long stick allowed them to kill the enemy while remaining beyond the swing of the ax. Spears and then arrows proved even better. Then came the gun, fired from the hand or the shoulder or launching deadly projectiles from miles away. Aircraft introduced an entirely new dimension to remote killing. First came bombs dropped from airships, then attacks with guns and bombs from airplanes. The atomic bomb, later coupled with the guided missile, today disconnects the assailant completely from his target. Modern missiles mean there is no more “going downtown.” Still the drone is viewed by some as a criminal instrument of war. The movie wants to remind us of that.
Beyond that, the movie takes some liberties, the destruction of the terrorists’ hideout being one of them. The drone fires a Hellfire missile into the house. The Hellfire has at most an 18-pound warhead. Yet we see a car parked outside the house being flipped in the air. No. Just no.