I should have known. When a lady down in the front of my full theater pulled out her cell phone during the pre-show warning to turn off your cell phone in order to scroll through an email full of pictures with her husband, zooming in on each one and discussing it, and continued doing this into Eye in the Sky’s opening credits until I yelled for her to put her phone away, I should have known things were going to go badly. We’ve all had movies ruined by rude audience members, people who won’t put away their cell phones (or don’t know how to put them on silent), never stop talking, eat loud or foul-smelling food, kick your seat, etc. But far more rare is an experience where a movie is ruined because of the audience’s reaction to it, either because they simply did not get the movie’s intentions or because you had a very different emotional response than the people surrounding you in the dark. I endured just such an event while seeing Eye in the Sky, and it not only made it impossible to fully enjoy the film from that moment on but it also destroyed a good bit of my faith in humanity. I was disgusted.
Most films that aim to be as topical as Eye in the Sky tend to be boring slogs, more concerned with hitting each hot-button issue or pulling the right strings than with telling a compelling story. Eye in the Sky, however, manages to do both. It’s a white-knuckle suspenseful tale of a mission to apprehend potential terrorists in Kenya while also managing to bring depth and subtlety to the debate about drone-based warfare. In many ways the film is a cinematic version of the Trolley Problem, the famous thought experiment that is a favorite in Intro to Psychology classes and occasionally makes appearances onscreen, and where another film about the drone war might come down definitively on one or the other side of the debate, director Gavin Hood has instead crafted a story complex enough to not offer any simple answers yet simple enough to foster a healthy debate. And while Eye in the Sky does an excellent job of showing just how muddy the waters are when it comes to drone strikes, in the end the audience is likely to see in the film a reflection of their own beliefs, whatever they may be, but regardless of your feelings you should come out of the film with something more to think about.