Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Ten Best Films of 2016: #3

Gavin Hood's engrossing "Eye in the Sky," from a brilliantly conceived and structured screenplay by Guy Hibbert, posits this premise: a British colonel (Helen Mirren) has been tracking Kenyan terrorists for five years. They've congregated at a compound in Nairobi to carry out a suicide bombing presently. Believing this development shifts her operation from capturing to killing the terrorists, Mirren instructs an American drone pilot (Aaron Paul) to drop his payload. Just as he's about to do so, a nine-year-old local girl enters the periphery of the compound, selling the bread her mother has baked to passersby. What Mirren had envisioned as a no-muss-no-fuss targeted attack will now require the approval of two countries' attorneys-general, foreign secretaries, and military officers - each of whom seems all too eager to "refer up" to a higher rung in the chain of command. 

Hibbert ratchets up the tension to the point of exquisite exasperation, giving each participant the opportunity to make his or her case, encompassing considerations from malleable collateral damage estimates to the relative political fallout from killing the young girl or allowing the bomber to leave the compound and possibly kill dozens of innocents. He also juggles an enormous cast of players, from Alan Rickman (in his last performance) as a lieutenant general who wants to take care of business and get back to his daughter to Barkhad Abdi as an intelligence operative who remotely controls a beetle-shaped camera to obtain video from inside the compound. I looked around the audience and saw men and especially women leaning in, completely immersed in the dilemma. With the clock continuing to tick and a decision coming to a head, you could hear groans of frustration as this or that official passed the buck. Here is one of the most captivating films of 2016.

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