Film review: Eye in the Sky (2015)

The 2015 film Eye in the Sky starring Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman is about a joint British-US operation using drones to spy on and kill suspected terrorists in Kenya. The central tension is created by a child who sets up a stand to sell home-made bread in the vicinity of the target and the film deals with the debate in London as to whether the possible death of the child is worth it to stop a pair of suicide bombers from carrying out attacks that will kill many more. It is the equivalent of the trolley problem commonly used in ethics discussions. It is the British who are in charge of the operation, though the drones are operated by the US.

I am usually reluctant to watch such films because they tend to be propaganda for the military, showcasing its technological capabilities, excusing its atrocities, and dehumanizing the enemy. This is especially the case when the filmmakers are big American studios and given access to military sites and equipment and personnel, because then the military insists on being shown in a positive light. But I read that the filmmaker is a South African and he filmed this entirely in that country, using terrain and sets that mimicked the UK locations and the US military bases in Nevada, and this must have helped in producing a more even-handed product.

This film is taut and well made and is less overtly propagandistic than most such films, except that it shows drone technology that is more advanced that it really is. It has little violence and action and focuses on the debate that plays out between military people played by Mirren and Rickman and the politicians in the British government who are reluctant to face the fallout because of the potential death of the child. I would like to think that the decisions to use drones to kill people are always accompanied by the level of intense debate of the ethics involved that this film depicts but I suspect that they are not. In the film the US authorities are considerably more cavalier about the loss of innocent lives than the British.

Incidentally, the film emphasizes the use of facial recognition technology that I wrote about earlier to make identifications of people before the strike and then identify them from aerial photographs taken of bits of the mangled corpses after the strike, and suggests that it is far more accurate than is the case.

But all in all, the film is worth seeing.

Here’s the trailer.


  1. says

    We saw is a while back, and it was really well done. And as you say a lot of tension and excitement with relatively little ‘action’.

    I must say a loved the little insect drone!

  2. Dunc says

    Does it make any effort to tackle the ethics of the extrajudicial execution of suspected terrorists in and of itself?

  3. Mano Singham says


    No. It goes to great lengths to make the case that there was no ambiguity at all as to whether the people targeted were awful people who were guilty of past crimes and were going to commit another one imminently. So it sidestepped any issue of doubt as to guilt. It also did not address the ethics of extrajudicial killings. The film narrowed down the ethical issues so that the only one being debated was that of so-called collateral damage, of when the deaths of innocents was justified in order to prevent the deaths of a greater number of innocents.

  4. dphuntsman says

    It was well-done- but it bothered me. It just doesn’t mesh with what we know about US drone strikes over the last years, in terms of implying lots of angst over possibly killing one innocent when in fact the US had done things like kill entire wedding or funeral events and refused to admit it. To me, and my Iranian-American friend who saw it with me, it was almost feel-good propaganda, since we don’t think the type of thing shown in the film is in any way, shape, or form, typical of what really happens.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    I used to wish “they” would make a movie of the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, but no longer consider any studio able to muster the requisite budget capable of getting it right.

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