What is one life worth, at the potential cost of uncountable others? Helen Mirren stars in Eye in the Sky as a British colonel whose covert “capture” mission escalates to an exponentially messier “kill” when her terrorist targets strap on suicide vests. The threat of an international incident—a little Kenyan girl is almost certainly in the blast radius—invokes a chain of political grandstanding and second-guessing, which Oscar-winning director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) plays out with artful, measured intensity, allowing the story’s moral ambiguities to stay in shades of grey.
There are certainly contemporary war stories told with more innate style and nerve; Eye often has the deliberate pacing and claustrophobic feel of a particularly well-executed TV procedural. But it’s also a tough, timely drama made for adult attention spans—a demographic that’s increasingly hard to find at the multiplex. Mirren, her jaw set and her eyes telegraphing every moment of fury and impatience, is unsurprisingly great (if not entirely humanized by the script), and Aaron Paul has key scenes as the drone pilot who actually has to pull the trigger. (It’s also nice to see Barkhad Abdi, who’s been almost entirely AWOL since his Oscar-nominated turn in 2013’s Captain Phillips, in a substantial role as a local go-between). But it’s the late Alan Rickman, as Mirren’s superior, who steals it; swinging from the kind of dry-vermouth humor he always did so well to a quietly brutal final speech that feels like a punch to the solar plexus, he proves with every one of his brief moments onscreen just how much the movies will miss him. A–