Monday, July 04, 2016

Looking at You, I Can Read Your Mind or All Drones Great and Small

In retrospect, could Eye in the Sky be the greatest film ever made about drones and the changing face of war in the 21st century?  Or is it just the latest and greatest?  The A-lister cast and the bootstrapping crew certainly think so!  Alas, I have yet to see Andrew Niccol's take on the subject, which is called... I have to look it up... Good Kill?  Well, Eye seems to be winning the title war so far.
I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised.  I still subscribe to the theory that the director makes the film, so knowing that this was directed by the guy who directed one of the Wolverine movies, I had low expectations.  Oh why oh why do I always read ahead to the end of the book.  Now sure, you're saying, but The Movie Hooligan!  Number one, why do you have to be such a jerk, and two, what about Rendition?  The movie that single-handedly brought down the Nixon Administration?  Well, I guess my answers would be, 1) aw, you're just trying to make me cry.  And 2) lots of movies were trying to bring down whoever was president during those dark years.  I'm thinking it was probably Bill Clinton's fault.  How that bad boy with the twinkle in his eye could end up being president for 16 years, we'll never know.  I thought we had a constitutional amendment to prevent such abuse of power and what not!  Anyway, somehow Rendition seemed a little too generic.  But the movie promises what's in the title: a dude does indeed get rendition-ated, all for our viewing pleasure.
But while the reasons for the renditionizing in Rendition are all but forgotten, Eye in the Sky starts with the promise and premise that all this fancy new drone technology is, in fact, helping the good ol' U.S. of A. kind of get all those pesky Top 10 terrorists off the list, and to replace them with new ones.  And they social mobility is a thing of the past!  We meet a couple of young drone pilots who may have one of the best commutes you'll ever see.  Two minutes of walking and they're at work... but is it really so great?  I have to drive about 40 minutes each way to work currently, but on the bright side I get to catch up on all my music CDs!
And so, the stage is set.  Time is spent preparing to get to the event we're supposed to spy on.  And we're introduced to the brand new technology that the Pentagon doesn't want us to know about: microdrones!  One shaped like a hummingbird, one like a beetle.  Sure, they're helpless against curtains and closed windows, but they get the job done, and they help our highest of army commanders to get real-time info of what's happening ground-side.  And soon, there it is.  The nightmare incarnate.  We see a video camera, we see terrorists making a suicide video for posting to Terrorist YouTube (...Vimeo?  Oh, s'z'nap!)  We see a bunch of tiny barbells, we see said barbells getting loaded into a vest.  All those things we've come to expect in an episode of Homeland, part of the new visual lexicon that is 21st Century terrorism, and it's all right there.  All being viewed in secret, all waiting to be acted upon by our specialized Armed Forces, tied up with a little bow or ribbon.
Seems a little too neat and tidy, don't it?  What are the odds, anyway?  Well, army chief Helen Mirren says she's been waiting six years for this moment, so it must not be that common of an occurrence.  Surely there are other things on her plate!  Meanwhile, $#!t gets too real... I mean, stuff, for the two young drone pilots.  They spot that little hula hoop girl we met earlier, selling bread right next to the spot that the Army wants to blow up real good.  And then...
...the machinery grinds to a halt.  It's downright magical.  We don't go as far off the rails as, say, Where the Wild Things Are, nor do things get wrapped up as neatly and as tidily as they do in Toy Story 2.  Mind you, my more military-minded viewing companion started complaining, saying that they would just bring in a drone pilot who'd be a little more willing to do the deed than Aaron Paul and that fetching young lass... who was that, anyway?  I'm thinking Eva Green... nah, it's just Phoebe Fox.  Looks like she's the new Liv Tyler.  Incidentally, her character is named Gina Gershon... I'm sorry, it's Carrie Gershon.  A little less ethnic, I guess.
Others get involved as well.  Helen Mirren's boss... you know, the guy from the first Die Hard... is watching, and a few of Britain's highest government mucky mucks are watching all of this as well.  They start fussing over the little girl, too, wondering what the press will say when they find out that... yada yada yada.  You get the idea.  Something tells me the screenwriters got the idea when they saw that photo of Hillary Clinton with President Obama when they took out Bin Laden.
For some reason, I'm reminded of an episode of The Simpsons that was particularly brutal to network executives.  See, one of the things that (TV) network executives do that bug the entertainers is provide little critiques, or "notes."  For Krusty the Klown, the last straw was an executive giving him notes on the air!!!!  Everybody wants to get into the act.  Well, there's a similar dynamic at work in the Drone Room.  It's become War by Committee.  Half are saying, this is a once in six years shot, and we have to take it, and the other half are saying DON'T BLOW UP THE LITTLE GIRLI confess, I got caught up in the dramatic tension!
Alas, the complexities of the real world come knocking on the door to make a simple situation more complex.  There's the side-drama of a micro-drone operator, with boots on the ground... why do I feel so dirty using that phrase?  Anyway, he provides a concurrent dramatic thread; will he be able to avoid detection by the local machine gunners that patrol the neighborhoods?  They come up with a plan to get the little girl out of there; this I dare not spoil any further.
Indeed, I risk spoiling the rest of the plot, so perhaps I'll just cut to the chase.  Alan Rickman ends up getting the right toy, and the two young drone pilots have had the worst shift of their lives.  I'm further reminded of the end of Oliver Stone's small film in-between the big ones from 1988, Talk Radio.  Howard Stern-esque shock jock, and Anthony Bourdain precursor Eric Bogosian goes through a long, dark night of shocking his audience.  However, he finds that the audience is shocking him right back, and it's tying his soul up in knots, wringing out every last drop of soul juice he has left.  This seems to be his last night of shock-jocking, as he seems to be giving it his all, and writing his Ph.D. thesis, if you will.  At the end of the show, however, boss Alec Baldwin, of all people, says to him "Great show, man.  See you tomorrow."  Same thing happens to the two drone pilots.  The boss thanks them for a good job, and says "See you bright and early..."  I forget when... 0600 or something.  Incidentally, the boss is also the film's director, Gavin Hood.  No wonder I've never seen him before!  We've got our new Peter Strauss, people.  Rejoice.
So, to conclude... ick.  Terrible segué... I'm not up on the drone sub-genre of war pics, but so far Eye in the Sky seems to be at the top of the class.  I don't want to go out too far on a limb, but it may very well be the Dr. Strangelove of drone pics.  I guess that makes Good Kill the Fail-Safe?  As for the drones themselves, well, it's a paradigm shift, no question.  There's the abolishing of the draft with Vietnam, so now we have an all-volunteer army.  Now the volunteers are piloting drones.  Also, the film seems to harken back to the days when we... some were fixated on that stupid deck of cards approach to the hierarchy of bad guys we wanted to get.  Then we started hearing about several new #2 guys in al-Qaida.  Sure, Eye in the Sky may not have all the answers, but at least for me it paints a very current picture of the modern battlefield.  A battlefield fraught with moral quagmires and blurry boundaries, spilling over to our airports, and soon to our water sources and highways!  I can't wait!

***1/2
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

1 comment:

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