When I first saw the trailers for Gavin Hibbert’s Eye in the Sky I almost expected to be disappointed. A movie exploring the intricate ethics of drone warfare with enough big names that people might actually see it? Surely that was too good to be true.
I’m pleased to report Eye in the Sky actually lived up to its outstanding trailer. It had the drama and suspense that one expects from a war movie without relying on unoriginal tropes of the genre. It also shows how you don’t have to shove libertarian messages down your audience’s throats to still have a libertarian movie.
Eye in the Sky asks one primary question: is it alright to kill innocent people if it prevents terrorists from killing more innocent people? However like many other ethical quandaries, the question gets more complicated the more we examine it. The movie explores those other questions as well: What moral obligations do governments have to try to prevent collateral damage? Should governments treat their citizens differently than foreigners, even if both are guilty of similar acts?
I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions and part of what makes Eye in the Sky work so well is that it doesn’t either. It makes an audience think about these issues (maybe even from a libertarian perspective) without being preachy. The message isn’t so much “here’s the libertarian view and why it’s right” so much as “here are some of the things libertarians consider regarding foreign policy.”
Part of what allows this is that the movie features the American government, the British government, and the Kenyan government. This avoids a strict us-against-them portrayal that you sometimes see in other war movies. The audience is not predisposed to pick a certain side just because “the good guys” are promoting it, since “the good guys” are promoting a variety of viewpoints.
There are military people who are strictly concerned with the success of the mission. There are lawyers who want to make sure no one can get sued later. There are politicians who are far more concerned about public perception. We see people come to different conclusions about complex issues without any of them being portrayed as unintelligent or malicious.
The main thing I took away from the theater was that war is complicated. It is more complicated that any politician makes it out to be. It cannot be summed up in a sound bite. Drone technology means that modern warfare is nothing like the wars of previous generations, and I’m glad cinema is catching up to that reality.