[Screen It]


(2016) (Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: Various military and government officials must decide whether to alter a mission from capturing a radicalized Brit to killing her and other terrorists, all with the potential of human collateral damage.
Colonel Katherine Powell (HELEN MIRREN) has long been after British citizen Susan Danford, a.k.a. Ayesha AL-Hady (LEX KING), who's since joined Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi. Thanks to the work of local informants such as Jama Farah (BARKHAD ABDI), as well as U.S. Air Force drone pilots Steve Watts (AARON PAUL) and Carrie Gershon (PHOEBE FOX) stationed on a Nevada base, she now knows where Danford, her husband, and other terrorists are exactly located. Coordinating with Lieutenant General Frank Benson (ALAN RICKMAN) who's in a different command center with the likes of Minister of Foreign Affairs Brian Woodale (JEREMY NORTHAM), Attorney General George Matherson (RICHARD McCABE) and political advisor Angela Northman (MONICA DOLAN), the plan is for Steve and Carrie to provide the eyes in the sky to help coordinate the capture of the terrorists.

But when Jama's tiny surveillance drone feeds back video that shows two suicide bombers being equipped to inflict death and destruction somewhere nearby, Katherine and Frank agree the mission must be altered to that of a kill strike. But since that would involve killing two British citizens and one American in a country that neither Britain nor America is at war with, debate breaks out about the legal issues and potential political fallout.

That includes escalating the decision making to the likes of British Foreign Secretary James Willett (IAIN GLEN) and others. That grows increasingly complicated when a local girl, Alia Mo'Allim (AISHA TAKOW), sets up a table to sell her mother's baked bread right next to the target building, and everyone involved must figure out if preventing the possibility of many deaths elsewhere outweighs that of Alia who's near certain to be the victim of collateral damage.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
For better or worse, every advancement in warfare technology has increased distance between the combatants. First, it was handheld weapons that presented a little extra space beyond direct hand-to-hand combat. Then spears and arrows increased that, followed by guns and canons. Planes, missiles, and rockets continued that trend to the point that hundreds and even thousands of miles could separate those fighting each other.

While that provided for increased safety of those on the shooting side of such weapons (assuming the same wouldn't be coming back at them from similar distances), it made such death and destruction even more impersonal than before. While the old saying used to be "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes," such advancements now mean you sometimes can't even see what country they're standing in.

The use of military drones has increased that detachment, not only due to some such operations being run stateside and thus allowing the combatants to operate in the comforts, so to speak, of home, but also because such devices and the operation of them give such warfare something of a video game vibe where the deaths and maimings don't even seem real anymore.

In the old days, if you killed someone in war, you experienced the bloody, gory and disturbing results firsthand with all of the accompanying emotional impact. Now, beyond some usually distant surveillance camera shot, you might see the explosion, but it looks even less real than in today's video games.

That's part of the subject matter found in "Eye in the Sky," director Gavin Hood's terrifically taut, dramatic thriller -- that engages the brain as much as the brawn -- where military and government personnel in various parts of the world must contemplate using such remote warfare to take out a terrorist cell.

As penned by screenwriter Guy Hibbert, the tale is about a joint British-American endeavor to take down the bad guys, or, in this case, a bad woman. She's a Brit who's been radicalized into becoming a militant, and she's been located in Nairobi. The commander of the operation far, far away is played by the always terrific Helen Mirren who -- upon seeing that more than one high profile target is with the woman, and that some suicide bombing is imminent -- switches the capture plan over to a kill strike.

Her military cohort (the late, great Alan Rickman) agrees with her, but a number of government types (played by the likes of Jeremy Northam, Richard McCabe, and Monica Dolan among others) question the legality and potential negative connotations of killing two British citizens and one American one in a sovereign country.

Complicating matters is a local Kenyan girl who makes the unfortunate decision to set up shop selling her mother's baked bread right next to the house where all of the militants are located. All of which means she's within the CDE (collateral damage estimate) radius of such a missile strike, thus stirring up rules of engagement debate about how or even whether to proceed, and hesitancy on the part of two U.S. Air Force drone pilots (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox) who are the ones tasked with pulling the trigger.

Surprisingly, no one quotes Mr. Spock from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" about the needs of the many (those who might be killed by the suicide bombers) outweighing the needs of the few or one (the girl, played by Aisha Takow). While I wasn't really expecting that exact quote, I was anticipating something along the lines of "A Few Good Men's" signature "You can't handle the truth" speech that would have further punctuated the ugly realities of those who need to take military action to keep the world safe.

Such topics are certainly discussed, but not in that sort of powerful, cinematic way that usually defines films of this ilk. That said, it's a small objection to what's otherwise a fairly suspenseful film that makes you think as much as it does sweat as things pretty much play out in real-time.

The performances are terrific all around, including from Barkhad Abdi (the bad guy in "Captain Phillips") as a local agent with boots on the ground and who puts himself in harm's way a number of times. The writing, direction and score are also top-notch, with the pic having a somewhat surprisingly powerful emotional punch at the end. Well made from start to finish, "Eye in the Sky" ends up highly recommended. It rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 31, 2016 / Posted April 1, 2016

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