Tough choices and morality come into strong effect for this war thriller; with more about the actual politics of war and the outcome those actions create. It’s directed neatly with a clear aim to rack up tension and see how all sides are affected by one big moment.
At least two of the most wanted extremists from Al-Shabaab are located inside a house on a street in Nairobi. Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) wants to capture the targets but this mission soon changes as she and Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) see something life-threatening in the building. Now it’s a back and forth of what to do as Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is ordered with shooting to kill.
Not just a gritty war film, this outing makes things more intellectual as it raises questions about the choices made in combat. In fact, this film manages to get into your head enough that you end up thinking about what you’d do if faced with the decision the characters are dealing with. As the opening line says, ‘The truth is the first casualty in war’ and those eight words speak volumes for the shady line between right and wrong to get your culprit seen in the 100 minutes to follow.
Gavin Hood directs his best feature here, as a taut thriller from people on the ground to military in comfy rooms each get shown as human and stuck in the moral quicksand of legalities and political attention. It’s directed in a well paced way, the narrative building to the ultimate action of letting a missile go or not in such a nail-biting way as we see one bystander get wrapped up in the brutality of war, even if they don’t know it. Hood somehow and gladly so makes this a war film not of the usual kind as we see more of the philosophical side to what goes into making a choice that could enhance terrorism propaganda or kill many innocents.
We flick between different locations, but four main places especially that all link very well and seam this idea of a worrying ticking clock to levels so high that you do hold your breath. A war-room, office, pilot shack and Nairobi are front and centre in this examined detail of concious choices whether correct or not. The truth ends up being shifted as stats are altered or ministers are given small details but this in Guy Hibbert’s screenplay all feels natural and brings the stressful rules of political agendas and military tenaciousness to engaging life.
Of the things I liked, the music from Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian stands vividly in my memory, burning intensely like the masterful ‘Sicario’ score. Also the general tension is handled very well as we get immersed into the dangerous viewpoint of peeking at terrorists hoping not to get caught or see them escape. I’m very happy also that they made a character’s fate goes a sad but right way in making this movie more realistic. Going across to the things I didn’t like as much, I must admit that there’s perhaps too much of a red-tape to and fro and things between many political figures having their say gets slightly laughable amongst the drama driven Nairobi predicament but they’re my only negatives.
Helen Mirren brings an authoritative demeanour to her role and makes her Colonel a gruff female with a thirst for getting her man/woman. She’s not just that though and you do see, even amongst her flexible truths that she’s affected by what happens at the end of the movie. Aaron Paul is one of the more human humans, bringing a wet eyed performance as pilot first timer Steve. Barkhad Abdi of ‘Captain Phillips’ is a great man amongst the sand and war-torn side of it all, he’s not in it much but manages to be likable and gripping as he tries to help lower the casualties of the strike. Alan Rickman in his last physical role is great, even just sitting he brings a dulcet tone and powerful assurance to the character. He also ends with a truly poignant and memorable comment about soldiers and the consequences of war for whoever is involved.
You cannot help but take sides when watching this and that’s what it attempts and succeeds in doing, it manages to bring you into the dilemma of the film’s main plot and question what you’d do. A clever, ethical and tense film which makes you think.