MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
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Eye in the Sky. Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul. Rated R.
On DVD and Blu-Ray, Redbox Rental; Showtime On Demand.
Good Kill. Directed by Andrew Niccol. Starring Ethan Hawke, January Jones. Rated R.
Imagine playing a videogame in which you get to pilot an actual plane in flight and drop missiles on an actual object thousands of miles away. You are able to inflict death and damage from your command post and never have to face retaliatory fire upon yourself or your co-pilots.
That’s drone warfare for you and it’s currently the most popular way for the U.S. military to take down terrorists. After all, if you are after just a couple of persons, why bring in the troops and surround a building when you can take care of things via satellite control? I’m not exaggerating the pervasiveness of drone warfare. The U.S. Director of National Intelligence reported recently that from 2009-2015 there were 471 air strikes (primarily with UAVs – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) that killed approximately 2,500 combatants and 100 non-combatants. Ask around and it’s not hard to know someone whose son or daughter is active in the military’s drone program.
Two recent films are focused on drone warfare and the ethical decisions that surround this type of warfare. Last year’s Good Kill tells the story of Thomas Egan (Hawke), a former Air Force pilot who has been moved by the military to Las Vegas, where he pilots a drone from an air-conditioned trailer in the desert, only to return home each night to an unhappy marriage and a wife who has resorted to drinking the days away. As Egan struggles with his feelings, he finds himself moving into more nuanced and painful decisions with his air strikes. Good Kill is not a subtle movie (it practically hammers you over the head with its message), but Hawke’s performance is nuanced and there is real moral outrage at the heart of the story.
Eye in the Sky is a parable of sorts, with the United States and Great Britain working together to take down known Al-Shabaab militants who are meeting at a home in Nairobi, Kenya. This time it is the British military who are calling the shots, led by Col. Katherine Powell (Mirren) and Lt. Gen. Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), but they will be using drones from the U.S. military, commandeered by Steve Watts (Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) from an air conditioned trailer in Las Vegas. They also have flying robotic cameras (one is literally a “fly on the wall”) to assist with surveillance inside the house. As the story progresses and the objectives become clearer, the possibility of innocent civilian death mounts. How much is one life worth? How will the enemy use social media if we make a military mistake? How can authority be passed on to someone else in charge? Eye in the Sky is a deliberately paced film that takes its time to raise moral questions and refuses easy answers or glib conclusions. This would be a great discussion film for church groups. Let me be the first to mention that the film’s R rating is greatly undeserved (it’s primarily for brief swearing). This film respects the need for defense as well as the price we pay. The movie opens with an epigram from Aeschylus: “In war, truth is the first casualty.” Eye in the Sky takes exception, with truthful and impassioned fury.
Eye in the Sky: Halos and Pitchforks Rating: Four halos. (A thoughtful film about collateral damage and other tragedies of terrorism and war.) Two pitchforks. (Some scenes of brief violence; war; brief use of PG-13 language.)
Good Kill: Halo and Pitchfork Rating: Three halos. (A well-acted and tension-filled film about the psychological side effects of long-distance war.) Four pitchforks. (Alcoholism; Pervasive swearing; scenes of sexual assault; violence; war)
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I take exception to the statistics given that only "100 non-combatants" have been killed by US drone strikes. This is akin to saying, "peace, peace, when there is no peace." A simple Google search will turn up dozens of journalistic investigations into the US governments numbers that reveal a very different story. Start with this one, which seems to bear directly on the movies: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/oct/15/90-of-people-killed-by-us-drone-strikes-in-afghani/ .
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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