The theatre of war has evolved over the ages, but its murderous consequences will never change. A cell of Al Shabaab terrorists has been located in a Somalian enclave of Nairobi. The plotters’ activity is being monitored by a minuscule camera within their safe-house and by a drone high in the sky. The images are watched simultaneously in London, Nevada and Hawaii. The decision of whether or not to take them out with a missile strike is derailed by the presence on the street of a little girl selling bread – an explosion would almost certainly result in her being ‘cd’ (collateral damage).
In a movie of near unbearable tension, director Gavin Hood puts you, the viewer, in the hot seat with all of those involved and demands that you take a side – fence-sitting is not an option. Protracted discussions and circular, frustrated arguments drag on as, on the ground, two of the terrorists are fitted with suicide vests. There are lives at stake. For Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) it’s personal – she’s been tracking the radicalised English woman involved for six years and cannot let her go; General Benson (Alan Rickman) is driven by the old soldier’s pragmatism; the three members of parliament who are at the table are torn between questions of legality and morality, the only thing they have in common is that they don’t want to be held responsible. Piloting the drone from a camp outside of Las Vegas, with his finger on the trigger, is Steve (Aaron Paul), who only signed up with the Air Force in order to pay off his college debts. Time ebbs away, approval from those higher in the chain of authority is sought… while the child sits innocently with the loaves that her mother has baked. Hood never lets the film become bogged down – its pacing is surprisingly fast – nor does he allow it to be burdened by excessive wordiness. With classy performances all round (how sad to have lost Rickman), this is a thriller of extraordinary power and lasting impact.