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Film review: Eye in the Sky – Helen Mirren navigates moral maze in drone warfare drama

Gavin Hood’s drama, featuring Alan Rickman’s last performance, looks at collateral damage from remote-control combat and the dilemmas involved

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2016, 12:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2016, 12:59pm

4/5 stars

A film that will largely be remembered for being Alan Rickman’s final on-screen appearance, Gavin Hood’s drone warfare drama deserves its own recognition. Unlike Andrew Niccol’s disappointing 2014 film Good Kill, this tale is intriguingly structured and expertly executed, and wholeheartedly embraces the moral complexities of one of the most divisive issues of modern military combat.

The target is Susan Helen Danford (Lex King), a radicalised English woman who has joined up with Al-Shabaab terrorists in Kenya. Leading the operation to bring her in is Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren). But when Danford heads to a Nairobi safe house, it becomes clear she and her fellow radicals are planning a suicide-bomb attack in the city.

‘One thing I am not is a pacifist’: Eye in the Sky’s Gavin Hood on nature of modern warfare

If this was a Michael Bay film, ground troops would storm the compound in a blaze of gunfire. But this is more thought-provoking, as Hood adeptly conveys the difficulties of green-lighting such an operation. With politicians scattered across the globe and all passing the buck (including one glued to the toilet, with food poisoning), Powell and her colleague Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Rickman) are left frustrated as the clock ticks.

Further complexities occur when the Las Vegas-based drone pilot (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) pulls rank as a young girl strays into the blast zone, refusing to drop his missiles until she’s clear. It’s a third-act nerve shredder that really ratchets up the tension: can you justify one innocent death to save hundreds more? It’s a conundrum liable to provoke debate long after the credits have rolled.

Eye in the Sky opens on June 30

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