Bleecker Street          1 hour 42 minutes            R

Don’t think you can be entertained watching life and death moral issues? Think again, and see EYE IN THE SKY. Director Gavin Hood (TSOTSI, RENDITION) and writer Guy Hibbert put us in the conference room and the drone pilot control room seeing politicians and the military wrestle with whether or not to take out terrorists knowing an innocent child may well die.

Helen Mirren is British Colonel Katherine Powell, leading a multi-national task force to capture known terrorists hiding out in Kenya. When their surveillance uncovers a suicide bomb plot, the “capture” plan turns to “kill.” Mirren lets us see inside the military mind. As Powell, she has a mission and she knows, to her core, that when presented with the opportunity to take out evil, she must give the order to act. For her, patience is no virtue.  

Alan Rickman, who died in January, appears in his last live action role. (his voice will be heard this year as the Blue Caterpillar in the animated ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS) Here he plays British Lt. General Frank Benson. He walks the fine line between Mirren, who demands the missile strike no matter the human cost, versus the politicians weighing the political fallout.

The tension ramps up with each delay and new complications. It all lands in the hands of the American drone pilot, Steven Watts, played with stoic humanity by Aaron Paul (BREAKING BAD). He’s ordered to fire his missile into a house knowing a 9-year-old girl will die. Even though he’s thousands of miles away from the battle field, he witnesses the consequences of his actions in high def. This is not war as video game but puts you tightly in the story’s grip.

Gavin Hood was at our screening and he is passionate about the issues raised in his film. (Interview here)  Even though today’s battlefield appears sterile and impersonal, when a drone pilot pulls the trigger and kills, how can he (or she) get in the car, drive home and answer the question, “So how was your day, dear?” Hood told us about 30% of drone pilots are treated for PTSD.

Hood wrapped up the moral issues of this story by equating it to “The Trolley Dilemma.” If a train is heading towards people on a track, do you sacrifice one life to save the lives of many? Who gets to make that decision? And in the case of EYE IN THE SKY, pay close attention to the difference in how the British and Americans deal with what constitutes acceptable collateral damage.

Barkhad Abdi, who was Oscar nominated for his role as the lead pirate in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, finally has another chance to show his talent. He plays the local Kenyan operative who flies a tiny camera into the terrorists’ house so we can see who and what is there.

Is this worth your bucks? There aren’t a lot of special effects and action sequences, but the audience at our screening was caught up in the unfolding drama as it slowly moved in fits and starts toward a final  resolution.

Except for the zealots strapping on their bomb-filled vests, there are neither villains nor heroes to be found in this film. Everyone would rather not kill an innocent child, but at the same time should many more civilians die needlessly. This is not conjecture. When a terrorist cell of Al Shabaab attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013, 67 people died.

In his last performance on film, Rickman reminds us again why we’ve enjoyed his work. The slow, silky delivery of his distinctive voice, along with the intensity and that wry sarcasm are all here. This film shows the new nature of war, and as Rickman says in his final speech to the politician, “Never tell a soldier he does not know the cost of war.” When you see this film, you’ll feel it, too.