This incredibly tense drone drama is a film so current and relevant it demands to be seen. Gavin Hood’s film, set almost entirely in real-time, details essentially every event on every level leading up to a potential drone strike, putting forth a depiction of the vast amount of decision-making and back-and-forth between officials that occurs before any trigger can be pulled. It is this honed-in nature of the film that makes it all the more important and enthralling.
Hood has crafted an edge-of-your-seat thriller out of a film with very little action. There are moments so extraordinarily tense they may turn your stomach, as the uncertainty and awareness of collateral damages are laid out before the audience at every turn. There are long pauses, moments of anticipation and conflict, both political and personal between the officials behind the operation, and emotional internal conflicts as each character is forced to decide what is right in a situation where either decision could potentially lead to the deaths of innocent people.
Tonally, the film remains interesting as the tension is built up and dissipates at the various climactic points. The film also features a few moments of light relief, allowing variation which helps to sustain the audience’s engagement.
The film really shows the vast array of people caught up in the decision-making of whether to fire one missile, truly displaying that life-or-death situations are not made immediately, no matter the urgency. This gives the film its poignancy and importance, as it will hopefully help to combat the misconceptions people have around conflict and battle, and how difficult choices have to be made. It will hopefully give civilians and those with little connection to the military a better understanding of the concept of collateral damage and how that is all assessed to result in any risks being taken for the almost assured greater good.
The film is carried by strong performances, led by the ever-strong Helen Mirren, and featuring great turns from the likes of Aaron Paul, particularly impressive in showing the disparity between the regular life of a drone pilot and his job, and Barkhad Abdi (making a welcome return to the silver screen since his Oscar-nominated performance in 2013’s Captain Phillips). The film also features Alan Rickman in his final role (voice-only roles not-with-standing) and it is a brilliant final entry into his extraordinary canon. The role allows his renowned dry humour to seep through at points, as well as giving him a fitting final role as a trusting, powerful man who is focused on the matter at hand, as well as Rickman giving him a deep, emotional dimension to create a fully rounded character. It is sure to become a part of his legacy and will remind you just how much he will be missed.
It is Rickman’s character’s line, ‘Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war’, that appears to summarise one of the main messages of the film, as it strives to expand its audience’s understanding of the complexity of operations and how nothing is ever black and white or an immediate command to shoot. It does this successfully and is one of the best thrillers of the year inciting great emotion whilst meditating on an important topic.