Starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Alan Rickman, Iain Glen, Jeremy Northam, Phoebe Fox, Michael O’Keefe
Directed By: Gavin Hood
An indie war thriller if there ever was one. The film features very little actual combat, but a lot of perspective on drone warfare. It also does a fantastic job of not drawing the line for the audience, leaving you to decide if it was all worth it. It lacks an emotional twist ending, but I can’t spoil that for you. I was a little disappointed that the film felt the need to resolve a key aspect in the end, and I think it ultimately took away from the impact at the end.
This film is all about how joint forces in the US and the UK have targeted some top key terrorists meeting in a house, and whether or not to use a missile to assassinate the targets. There’s a little girl outside selling bread, and the debate rages about whether or not the collateral damage is acceptable here. Mirren plays the Colonel in charge of the operation, Paul is the drone pilot, and Abdi plays a Kenyan intelligence operative on the ground. You see three different perspectives, and the film does an excellent job of balancing the different angles.
The cast does a great job, and it was heartwarming to see Alan Rickman among the ensemble. With all these great actors, it’s hard to say if one has a more “stand out” performance than the others. I often find myself seeing someone like Helen Mirren, and while I think she does a great job, I think she’s had better performance with more use of her full range. I was more impressed with Abdi, who is proving his range beyond his breakthrough performance in Captain Phillips. Of the whole cast, I’d say he was more of a standout because it pushed the exploration of his abilities, versus the other cast who fire on full cylinders in every film they’re in.
I was disappointed in the resolution, but I felt the whole film leading up to that was superior. I wish the film had gone with a more ambiguous ending, truly leaving the viewer with unanswered questions. What would you have done? Would you have made the same choice? By closing that story, it closes that answer for many viewers. It decides how you should feel, instead of provoking a continued discussion on the use of drone warfare.
For Gavin Hood, this film is a bit of a redemption for him, having previously been responsible for the first Wolverine film, and Enders Game. He belongs more in this indie realm, as it allows him more free reign creatively with less feedback from the studios on the type of film he should be delivering. He’s not a blockbuster director, but he might just be a damn fine indie director, and that should be enough. He’s going to have to choose between respect and money, because he clearly cannot have both. His smaller films (including Tsotsi and Rendition) give him prestige, while his big budget films take away that same respect he’s built.
A solid thriller with excellent pacing and showcasing of its entire ensemble. One of the more thoughtful films to come out in the last few years.
FINAL GRADE: A-