As explored in Bleecker Street’s new political thriller “Eye in the Sky,” drone warfare is one of the most hotly debated issues in the modern geopolitical landscape. The film depicts an international mission to take out a terrorist in South Africa with a drone strike that becomes complicated when a child wanders into the strike zone, and the commanders must decide whether the collateral damage is worth it to acquire the target.
“Eye in the Sky” presents all sides fairly even-handedly, and at Wednesday night’s New York premiere — held at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square with an after-party at the nearby Parkview Lounge — Helen Mirren, who stars as a military intelligence officer who advocates for the strike to go forward, said that even after making the film, she doesn’t necessarily take any one particular viewpoint.
“My opinion didn’t really change. I’m more educated; I’m more knowledgeable,” she said. “I didn’t really have an opinion before, and I don’t particularly have an opinion now, but certainly I have more education.”
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Director Gavin Hood, who tends to split his time between big-budget franchise fare such as “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009) and “Ender’s Game” (2013) and indie films such as “Tsotsi” (2005) and “Rendition” (2007), told Variety he didn’t know much more about drones than what he read in the newspapers, but became obsessed with the topic after he read Guy Hibbert’s script.
“It left me with a lot of questions, and I wanted to talk to somebody after reading it, and there was nobody to talk to because I just finished the script. So what do you do? I dived into the Internet,” Hood said. “I started researching, and I called friends who had friends in the military, and before I knew it, I was deep down a rabbit hole of meeting people in the defense industry, the military, and legal organizations both for and against drone warfare, and I just soaked it all in for a month before I approached the producers, who were looking for a director.”
If that research led Hood to come down conclusively on the issue one way or another, it’s not apparent from the final product. “I think what Guy’s script does so well, and what I hope the movie does well, is to give the audience a good thriller,” he said, “and not in any way preach or tell them what to think, but give them a good deal to think about.”
Hood’s hard work paid off, according to Aaron Paul, who plays an American drone pilot. “He’s such a perfectionist. He had done endless amounts of research. I just imagine him, late night, at a library on his 17th cup of coffee, so I just constantly picked his brain, because he seemed to always have the answers to my questions,” said Paul, who also spent time with a real-life drone pilot to get into the role. “99.999 percent of the time, these pilots are just surveillance in the sky, they’re just the eye. This particular situation that we are dealing with in this film, it’s a little bit of a different story.”
This is one of two films Paul has out at the moment (the second, John Hillcoat’s “Triple 9,” was released a few weeks ago), and Paul also has the new Hulu series “The Path” and a new season of the Netflix cartoon “BoJack Horseman” on the horizon. It’s a steep workload, which is just how he likes it.
“I’m addicted to work. I feel so blessed to do what I do, so I’m just going to keep doing it until they beg me to stop,” Paul said. “Busy is good.”
During his introduction to the film, Hood brought onstage Mirren (who yelled at him from the audience to stand in the spotlight so people could see him) to say a few words about her friend, the late Alan Rickman, who also played a general in the film.
“I’m very moved that it is his last film, because the person on the screen, as you will see, is Alan. It’s not Alan playing one of his wonderful character roles. He’s brilliant in this film, but it is Alan as he was as a person. Witty, urbane, intelligent, human,” Mirren said. “I think if Alan was sitting here tonight he, like me, would have been very, very proud to have been a part of it.”