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Several known radicals, including two British nationals, have gathered in a house in Nairobi, Kenya. The British military’s original plan was to take them alive. However, it becomes apparent that a terrorist attack is imminent, and a live capture is no longer an option. The global team—a colonel in Sussex, England, a lieutenant general surrounded by lawyers and politicians in London, two American drone pilots in Nevada, and a team of Kenyan spies—are caught up in the new politics of warfare. Should the British order a strike on British nationals? In a non-hostile country? Things become even more complicated when a young girl sets up her bread-selling stand in the strike zone.

Much of the conflict presented in Eye in the Sky is of the decision-making sort, with lots of people arguing regulations and authority. Yet the suspense builds inexorably, so that for a movie that has very little actual action, it really packs a punch. It offers no easy answers; there is no easy equation for how much death and destruction is acceptable to prevent possible worse death and destruction.

Helen Mirren plays the colonel who is sure of what must be done, but she needs approval from the lieutenant general (the late Alan Rickman), who in turn must get approval from others who want approval from others, and so on. The British bureaucracy seems at times ridiculous, at other times a welcome show of checks and balances.

The movie also demonstrates the haunting irony that the people ordering action are not the people who would pull the trigger, and the people who pull the trigger are not on even on the same continent as those who would have to clean up the mess. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) performs well as one of the troubled drone pilots, and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) makes the tension real as a spy on the ground in Nairobi. Authority is elusive but blame is certain, and the question of morality is sometimes eclipsed by a fear of bad press.

This effective film will linger in your thoughts, and it might change the way you look at news reports from war-torn regions. It would also be a great discussion-starter for movie groups. On disc now. (Universal Studios)

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