a still from the film
Drone warfare is a moral grey area, and this movie completely gets that right.
In fact, Gavin Hood's Eye in the Sky is an edge-of-your-seat thriller throughout primarily because it offers its audience a framework for critically thinking about modern drone warfare and its consequences. (It's also quite rare for a movie to be able to wring so much tension from shots of people staring at screens and talking on the phone.)
For years, UK Colonel Katherine Powell (Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren) has been tracking a radicalised British citizen, and American drones have finally located her target inside a safe house in Nairobi, Kenya.
Two on-the-ground spies, one played by Oscar-nominated actor Barkhad Abdi, provide backup support by flying two micro-drones - shaped like a bird and a beetle - onto the properties where the terrorists are meeting.
But when surveillance footage shows that the militant group is preparing suicide vests for an imminent attack, a trigger-happy Powell turns her capture mission into an order to kill.
But just as American drone pilot Steve Watts (Emmy Award-winner Aaron Paul) is about to launch the deadly Hellfire missile from a bunker in Nevada, a little girl enters the kill zone to sell bread to make money for her family.
Her presence sparks a debate about the strike's morality and legality at all levels of the US and UK governments, which ropes in UK Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman in his final on-screen role).
It creates a domino effect: more leaders are pulled in, more views are challenged.
That was the most fascinating part of the movie: seeing the group's kaleidoscope of opinions; each person passionately makes their case for either shooting or not shooting the Hellfire missile.
It is a stark and intricate look at how war in the 21st century is waged. As a result of Mirren and Rickman's performances, we see what baggage leaders bring into these split-second moral decisions, and as a result of Aaron Paul's performance, we see what baggage young drone pilots and soldiers will walk away with after pressing a button that unleashes a rain of destruction.
And we, the audience, walk away with the feeling that the world is more grey now than it ever was.