Modern warfare has become a popular subject in film in the past several years but few films have shown a light on the fact that warfare does not just depend on troops of soldiers but also by those millions of miles away.
The film is directed by Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game) and stars Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell. Powell is a cold and calculating leader who has been searching for a radicalized couple belonging to a terrorist group in Nairobi, Kenya. After years of searching, she finds them hiding in a small house with other terrorists who are all planning an attack. Her mission is to make sure they are killed by a drone missile strike but not everyone involved in the decision is on board with her plan. Mirren was given a chance to play a role few women are afforded since women are not generally cast as high ranking military officers. She took advantage of this opportunity by being a confident and resilient lead which is necessary for the film’s success since she carries much of it on her shoulders. However, Mirren’s character is not only strong but also shrewd as she maneuvers through the ethical and moral minefield between her and her prize.
Alan Rickman plays Lieutenant General Frank Benson. Rickman has a subtle way of being intense and brooding without sacrificing charm. His character is stern and serious yet he also manages, somehow, to be the only comic relief throughout the film. He plays a man retired from the battlefield and now must face the battles of bureaucracy as he sits with the prime minister and other government officials in order to convince them that an assault on the terrorist organization is the necessary course of action. He has always found a way to walk the line of being outwardly austere and delightfully charismatic.
Where the film finally reveals its first real moment of conflict is also when it begins to falter. A young African girl, Alia (Aisha Takow), who is introduced early on in the film, suddenly becomes an integral part in the story by venturing into the attack zone of the missile strike. She is shown at first to be just an innocent child as she plays with her hula hoop, reads books in secret, and plays with her almost sickeningly sweet parents. It’s obvious that something is going to happen to her which is why it’s not a surprise when she wanders into the line of fire. She becomes a key element to the story and it throws those responsible for the undecided assault into a panic thousands miles away. The film soon becomes a frantic game of passing the buck because no one wants to be responsible for the girl’s death. Once the debate of ethics begins, the film moves into dangerously tedious territory as government officials bicker amongst themselves. It is important to add that this movie is definitely not an action film. The lack of action, however, is fitting since the film is decidedly about drones and not about hand-to-hand combat but this also makes the film very dull.
The innocent girl in the line of fire poses new moral and ethical questions as they apply to war but, when it comes down to it, Alia is not portrayed in a way that truly evokes sympathy because she’s obviously thrown into the story as a plot device and not as a real person. But, of course, what kind of heartless monster would not feel any sympathy toward a child? It is that kind of mentality that produces lazy writing and contributes to a lack of subtlety. The screenplay was written by Guy Hibbert, who up until this point, has mostly written TV movies and, with this film, he attempted to translate a complicated ethical situation into a 100-minute movie.
Though the film comes across as a little tedious and inauthentic, the performances help to keep the film from veering into completely unwatchable territory. Hellen Mirren and Alan Rickman are each a force to be reckoned with and they are both impeccable in their respective roles. The film also does bring up some thought-provoking ideas of war, ethics, and morality. The film also does its best to capture modern warfare at its most lackluster moments of modern warfare and highlights the bureaucracy and official procedure that influences it.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Despite its trite premise, the film honestly depicts a day in the life for those responsible for drone attacks and it does feature some interesting dialogue and thought-provoking ideas about war. It handles some complicated issues and subject matter such as terrorism in a concise manner that one might expect from a 100 minute movie. It feature some strong moments such as Alan Rickman’s final words that are so full of honesty, subdued regret, and subtle disillusionment. However dull it may be, it concisely captures a dangerous and complicated moral battleground and, with that being the case, tedium comes with the territory.