A new TV spot for the drone drama [Eye In the Sky], which debuted on March 10th during the Republican debate, uses a voice-over from President Barack Obama. Given that the U.S. military recently killed 150 Islamist Al-Shabaab militants using drone strikes, distributor Bleecker Street’s decision to air President Obama’s voice proves chillingly apropos, as the main sound bites are from his speech to the National Defense University about new drone technology in relation to terrorism. As a result of life imitating art, the voice-over gave Eye In The Sky — a drama about drone strikes against fundamentalist Muslim terrorists in Kenya — a real-world urgency.
Using President Obama’s voice-over was a brilliant marketing ploy for the film, but you could argue that in the cinema, a more fictionally authoritarian voice might be handier to hammer home the gravitas of drone warfare’s collateral damage, i.e. the death of innocent civilians. I’m not saying that President Obama’s voice isn’t recognizable. I’m just saying, that for better or worse, there are voices in Hollywood that come across as more immediately recognizable, authoritative, and emotionally-charged — by association, of course, after a life-time of watching and re-watching films like Air Force One.
If any Hollywood actor’s/actress’ voice alone can make viewers sit up from their cushy movie seats and seriously reflect over the rules of engagement when it comes to drone strikes, I’m betting that it has to come down to one of these seven:
James Earl Jones
Probably the most distinctive voice in the movies to date, it’s impossible to resist the force of Jones’ powerfully paternal and booming bass, which is the aural equivalent of monumental gravitas. After all, we’re talking about the voice of Darth Vader here. Hard to believe that Jones initially remained uncredited on the first two Star Wars films since his voice-over was considered “a special effect” rather than a performance. But listen, you will.
Probably the second most recognizable voice in Hollywood, it’s no coincidence that Freeman has played everyone from God (Bruce Almighty) to the President (Deep Impact) in the movies - as well as narrated the latest Sagan-inspired Cosmos series. Providing a gentler, calmer version of Jones’ voice, Freeman’s spellbinding tenor could read aloud an advertisement for laundry detergent and still convince you that you’re absorbing eternally deep wisdom. If anyone can save humanity with his voice alone, it’s definitely Freeman.
Forget Merty. Even if, unlike most of us, you haven’t binge-watched House of Cards to death, it’s too late to hear Spacey’s polite charming Southern drawl and not think “presidential” - if not also shrewd, manipulative, and downright evil. Isn’t such a voice born to command: “Release the drones, sir!”?
Its hard not to hear a clipped, no-nonsense, superposh British accent and not think “domineering” and “authority figure” - especially when it belongs to the voice of M from James Bond films. M may be a proper lady, but she’s still calling the shots in her gravelly-edged tone, instructing Bond where to go and what to do, and who to kill…
Ford may not have the sharp Brit diction of Dench, but then again, he doesn’t need it. His familiar growl - from the Indiana Jones films to Air Force One, where, yes, he plays the President - manages to be both simultaneously stoic and captivating, while maintaining a you-really-don’t-want-to-fuck-with-me menace.
Again, a gruffer, tougher Irish-tinged variation of the above, and though of a higher timbre, produced at an even more intense and blatantly intimidating level. Who better to tackle a terrorist than someone who’s already played a fearless terrorist himself, Michael Collins? Neeson speaks, and it inspires pure fear on a gut level; it’s like unstoppable vengeance has a voice. He will look for you, he will find you - and he will kill you.
If you really want to project the dark and dirty side of drone warfare, Nicholson is your man. His voice, often bordering on reedy, is probably the closest to Obama’s in terms of range, but that’s where the comparison abruptly ends. At his most commandeering, there is nothing rational behind Nicholson’s voice; like Nero, he just wants to watch Rome burn. Nicholson has this iconic way of savoring his lines, drawing them out in the ultimate sarcastic, sadistic sneer. Not for nothing was this man the original Joker, gangster boss Frank Costello in The Departed, subversive mental patient McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and axe-wielding Jack in The Shining.
Shortlisted: Bill Pullman, Michael Douglas, Alan Rickman, Christopher Walken, Gene Hackman, Alan Alda, Al Pacino