Drone keeps on hovering and hovering: not much happens by Richard Jones


A look at Eye in the Sky

I THOUGHT a modern, up to date movie about the war on terror with two outstanding actors in the lead roles would provide riveting viewing.

Alas, I was mistaken and pretty bored with the whole thing.

In Eye In The Sky Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman (in just about his final ever performance) play a pair of leading British military people who are tasked with taking out a terrorist cell in east Africa.

Mirren plays Colonel Katharine Powell who’s in charge in the command centre. She’s tracked down a militant dissident – a fellow Englishwoman as it turns out – and she’s in a shack in shantytown Nairobi.

In the same room are two Al-Shabaab suicide bombers, about to be kitted out in their bomb vests, and there’s not too much time left before they head out to a shopping mall in the city centre and wreak carnage.

Rickman is hawkish General Frank Benson who’s stuck in Whitehall’s Cabinet office with a brace of British ministers. But not the Foreign Minister, which adds to the overall drawn-out nature of proceedings.

Now we know that a fully-armed drone is cruising back and forth over Nairobi. It has two powerful looking missiles attached to its wing undersides and from time to time the camera shows us the drone: from below, from above and also from side-on.

Now, how does the information about who is in the shanty reach Mirren’s command centre and Rickman’s Whitehall centre, not to mention the drone pilots based a long way distant in desert Nevada.

Well, some Somali anti-terror agents are on the ground in Nairobi. They’re close enough to send in two spy cameras: one is loaded onto a tiny, sparrow-like mechanical bird and the other is literally a fly on the wall.

It’s a black beetle operated by an agent played by Barkhad Abdi (remember him from the Tom Hanks epic, Captain Phillips?). Abdi sits in a dusty marketplace not far from the about-to-be-targeted shanty.

He’s got an iPhone 6, turned sideways, so that he can pilot the beetle. Even while being hassled by a teenage would-be entrepreneur the agent skilfully lands the beetle inside the shack on the main beam above where the suicide bombers are being kitted out.

And who’s there watching all these preparations – of course, it’s Mirren’s wanted English terrorist.

Just then the humanitarian element kicks in. A young Kenyan girl, Alia, has set out her bread stall a few metres from the centre of the projected blast radius.

And unfortunately the battery on the beetle runs out. The mechanical bird isn’t much help because it’s only capable of outside surveillance.

And that’s when the conversations about to strike, or not to strike, race back and forth. We transfer from Westminster to Singapore where the Foreign Minister has been struck down with food poisoning and then on to China where the US Secretary of State is playing ping-pong with his hosts.

US pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) in his Nevada cockpit isn’t happy to pull the red trigger and unleash his missiles. So we bounce around from Rickman’s sweaty conference people, to Mirren’s command centre where a concerned sergeant wants to know, in percentage terms, how big the blast fallout might be and back to the trigger pilots in Nevada.

I left the little local arthouse cinema at that stage to get another glass of wine.

Drone warfare is a terrifying concept there’s no doubt, but this film tended to ‘drone’ on and on when a quick directorial resolution was called for.

And another thing – how long can a drone stay airborne before it needs to be re-fuelled or its batteries re-charged?

Furthermore, is it safe to land it if the activated missiles haven’t been launched?

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