Is it worth sacrificing one life in order to potentially save many others?
That’s the question examined, often rivetingly, by the military drama “Eye in the Sky.” From filmmaker Gavin Hood (who directed the Oscar-winning South African film “Tsotsi”), the story unfolds simultaneously at several locations around the world. In London, Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) zeros in on a long-tracked terrorist in Kenya, via surveillance conducted in Nevada by an American drone pilot (Aaron Paul). A missile is prepared to strike — until a 9-year-old girl, selling bread, is spotted in the kill zone.
We zigzag, breathlessly, from the point of view of a local Kenyan operative (Barkhad Abdi, of “Captain Phillips”) trying to get the girl out of harm’s way, to the wood-paneled room where Powell’s commanding officer (Alan Rickman) is briefed on the situation, to the claustrophobic quarters of the American pilots, trained to follow orders but reluctant to do so.
At times, the film approaches gallows comedy (as the decision-makers in the room try to refer the ultimate order elsewhere), perhaps a little too much so; at others, it’s a tense, chilling look at a seemingly unbearable choice–refreshingly, without telling its viewers what to think.
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The cast is strong, but “Eye in the Sky” is given added poignancy by the final screen appearance of Rickman, who died earlier this year at 69. (His voice will be heard as the Blue Caterpillar in “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” coming in May.)
Here, his role is a supporting one, but played with his usual wonderfully controlled dryness; you feel calmed as his voice smooths over us.
“Never tell a soldier,” he says, in quiet, deliberate tones that seem to pull us into a velvet box, “that he does not know the cost of war.”
Eye in the Sky
Rated: R for some violent image and language. Starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman. Director: Gavin Hood. Running time: 102 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Flicks.