Eye in the Sky movie full length review - Complex, tense and true
A few months after my friend was murdered by terrorists in a Kenyan shopping mall, I was watching TV.
It was Homeland; there came a moment in the episode I found myself relaxing with that one evening where a character has a lead on a likely opportunity to kill a terrorist who was in the early stages of planning an atrocity. He pulls up alongside the terrorist's car on his motorbike, ready to bomb the vehicle. As he does so, he becomes aware of a problem, someone in the terrorist's car who is not supposed to be there. A child. He rides alongside the car for a while, caught in a terrible moment of indecision. Eventually he rides away, the opportunity untaken.
Pre-Westgate, I would have been where most viewers would have been in that sequence - feeling the anguish, aware of the wrestle with conscience, willing him not to kill the child. But this was a new reality I was now in. There was no conscious mental process. Just this strong, distasteful feeling: take the shot. Risk the child's life for the sake of those who will be killed. Kill the bastard. I remembered how I had felt, what I said in the aftermath of my friend's murder: just give a few minutes alone with one of the perpetrators tied to a chair. It won't take long.
My anger's intensity has relented since, but the wrestles of conscience don't go away. This film's cinema release presented me with an opportunity to see how, or if, I've changed. It tells the story of the hunt for members of Al-Shabaab (the group that murdered my friend). They are tracked by drone to a single house - the order to capture them is about to be given when it becomes apparent that they are preparing suicide vests for an imminent attack. The priority moves from capture to kill; the order to release the missile that will save innocent lives is on the brink of completion when a child sets up to sell bread outside the house in question. She will likely be killed if the missile is fired. The rest of the film is the moral, military and political dilemmas being wrestled with, passed up chains of command inside darkened rooms around the globe, all the while the clock ticking down to massive civilian loss of life. Actually, that depersonalises it. Yes, the clock was ticking - to the murder of my friend, all over again.
The film articulates most of the dilemmas with which I have wrestled since my friend's death. It justice to most of them, if not ever really articulating the political complexities involved. It's economically directed, the lack of violence ratcheting up the tension to levels where you long for some sort of release. The performances are fine - this an ensemble piece, rather than a star vehicle. Helen Mirren does fairly well despite being miscast; I'd like to have seen more of the brilliant Aaron Paul as the soldier with his finger on the button, Barkhad Abdi is consummate, and every line Alan Rickman delivers makes us ache that at what we've lost with his death.
The film offers no answers. Every option is flawed, every character compromised, every view has a valid alternative. The film asks all the questions I have ... and leaves them hanging in a Kenyan dust-bowl, strewn with rubble and human remains. As a leader I empathise with the personal cost of taking decisions most have no understanding of; thanks to some nameless men and women with guns I now have skin in terrorism game, complicating to previously unimagined levels a decision I'll never have to take. Some justice systems give - for good reason - the guilty and the judge the opportunity to hear the affect the crime has had on victims and those close to them. I understand that; but now I've been as close to violent crime as this, I also understand why such revelations should never be the only factor in sentencing the guilty. I, for one, would be too angry to be just.
It's strange to find myself intimately involved in the moral quagmire of violence. All I've come to know is that my cosy neo-pacifist principles no longer sit so easily or safely - I think I still hold them, but I hold them with alarming looseness.
I watched the film on Palm Sunday evening, the first day of Holy Week; an inexorable journey towards an act of horrific, prolonged, violent innocent suffering. That knowledge adds to the mix that mine is a Jesus who knows what it's like to be on the end of both unrighteous anger - his murderers' - and righteous (the anger of His Father which he took the consequences of that day). He didn't deserve that latter anger, but He took it anyway. It says to me that, along with some alarmingly violent expressions of anger in the Psalms - there is a place for this emotion which is often the least acceptable to church subcultures. It says that innocent suffering is right at the heart of what I have given my life to; it is identified with and wept over.
The film left me in anger - and to an extent, that's OK. It also made me fear that maybe the terrorists win even when we capture of kill them - they've reduced us in some way, whether in mind or deed, to their level, even for a moment. But then Holy Week, with its complexities and denials and political blame-shifting and violence and resurrection come along. I don't understand it any more than I used - probably less so, in fact. But the week gives me a glimpse of when this will end, and that Someone at least understands. And that, for now, is just about enough.