How much you enjoy Eye in the Sky – the latest film on drone warfare – depends on what you’re looking for.
The plot is fascinating, the cast excellent (good to see Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul back in the spotlight) and for those of us who’ve always had a thing for the older woman, Helen Mirren in combat fatigues is a fantasy we never dared imagine might one day be externalised.
Yet it is also irritating to the point where my wife nudged me sharply for ‘chuntering’; expressing my increasing dissatisfaction with what was unfolding before me, in periodic sighs and audible groans that could no longer be contained, public place or not.
Thankfully, she didn’t use her normal ploy in these circumstances – “It’s only make-believe…” – because sadly, I have the awful feeling that Eye in the Sky is all too true to life.
No spoilers here: let’s just say that a drone strike on a house in which there is visible evidence of a suicide bomb attack being prepared, is delayed by a turn of events that gives rise to the moral dilemna around which the movie revolves and which is played out at both the US air base from which the drone is operated and a Whitehall meeting room.
With only so much time left before the suicide bomber and his accomplices leave the house, politicians six thousand miles away perform a masterpiece of buck-passing and dithering, the life of an innocent mere proxy for their own political lives. Like a blocker in an American football game, political correctness positions itself obdurately in the way of a blindingly-obvious military imperative.
Does that sound like make-believe to you? If not, then you will understand why I chuntered. It is probably a consequence of being a nation 70 years removed from its last all-consuming conflict that there exist in its citizenry people who naively imagine that the execution of war can be neatly trammelled within the Queensberry Rules. That a politician criticises a general (the swansong role of the late Alan Rickman) for plotting the execution of an enemy from the safety of central London, having herself played the game of drawing-room warfare to the point where Winston Churchill would have spat in her face, is the film’s crowning hypocrisy.
Yet just as I have ceased laughing out loud at the sitcom Veep, because of a nagging fear that its ghastly, shallow characters are all too reflective of real life in Washington DC, so I couldn’t really enjoy Eye in the Sky, because of the dismaying suspicion that this is just how it is in reality. People doomed to lose a war because they insist on treating it like a fencing match.
And, oh, the optics of the film’s crux, where a black guy gets leant on because a bunch of feckless Caucasians can’t make their minds up. In an era where race predominates, did no-one think to put his hand up during filming and suggest that this might not look terribly edifying in the final cut?
As I say, it depends what you’re looking for when you enter the cinema. The drama never flags, the cinematography is excellent, and how gratifying it is that Alan Rickman’s last major line in cinema is not only the film’s best but maybe one of the best he has ever uttered: “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war”.
If only our politicians enjoyed such clarity.
As a counterpoint, here’s a left-wing view of Eye in the Sky, after which you may feel a measure of sympathy for scriptwriter Guy Hibbert. He produces a fine piece of work and somehow manages to raise everyone’s hackles.