Friday 15 December 2017

Film review: Eye In The Sky - a top crisis drama with a superb cast

Cert: 12A. Now showing

'Breaking Bad' star Aaron Paul in 'Eye in the Sky'.
'Breaking Bad' star Aaron Paul in 'Eye in the Sky'.
Steals the show: Idris Elba.

Hilary A White

Regardless of whether you know your Siegfried from your Vidal Sassoons, you'll know modern warfare can involve posh men playing God from the comfort of distant HQs. And with drones now able to hit targets remotely, conducting military manoeuvres from the armchair has never been more feasible.

The ethics of this is the thematic core of this taut drama from South African director Gavin Hood (Totsi) and writer Guy Hibbard. Does drone footage of living, breathing civilians actually make it harder to endanger them during such strikes? Should it alter tactics? If so, how?

From above, Islamist terrorists are being spied on in their Nairobi safe house by Helen Mirren's spaniel-loving general in England. Receiving orders from her and piloting the contraptions from Nevada are US co-pilots Steve and Carrie (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox).

On the ground, a Kenyan agent (Barkhad Abdi) is flying a far-fetched 'insect drone' to view inside the house. Bombs are seen and our general calls for an immediate strike.

The problem is a local girl has set up her bread stall by the hideout. The pilots express concern, causing ripples of debate all the way up to Lt Gen Benson (Alan Rickman, in one of his final roles) who is supervising from London. Much hand-wringing ensues.

Unsurprisingly, there is ample philosophical and political meat to Eye In The Sky.

As a crisis drama it also scores highly, rotating from one set to the next and linking the tense energies and tones of a superb cast. 4 Stars

Bastille Day

Cert: 15A. Opens April 22

If Idris Elba, right, was looking for a showcase to be the next Bond, Bastille Day fits the bill. A young French woman, Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) is a left-wing activist who agrees to plant a bomb in the offices of a political party on condition there are no casualties.

However, when she sees the cleaning crew (black people cleaning the offices of a far-right party) she abandons the plot, planning to throw the bomb into the Seine.

Michael Mason (Richard Madden) is an American pickpocket stuck in Paris. He steals to order and at whim and when he sees Zoe upset and distracted, he steals her bag. Finding nothing of interest, he abandons it and it explodes almost immediately, killing four people. Captured on CCTV, Mason is identified as the bomber and insubordinate CIA officer Sean Briar (Elba) is put on the case. The French don't know the CIA cell is operating, so boss Karen (Kelly Reilly) requests discretion.

But Briar is a rogue, so, you know, it all gets a little messy. And messier still when it turns out that nothing - neither motive nor forces for good or evil - is what it seems, something that takes on added piquancy in the light of real events in Paris.

It is odd that three British actors play American roles, why not set it as UK secret services? And I groaned at the set-up of Briar as a maverick agent, it's just so hackneyed and really doesn't bring anything to the story.

But it recovers well and becomes a well-paced, enjoyable action thriller. James Watkins directs Andrew Baldwin's screenplay and there are lots of set pieces and action scenes with a few twists that keep it ticking along very nicely.

These things are inherently ridiculous in that one bloke can kick the bejangoes out of entire teams of elite forces but that is part and parcel of the gig, and potentially all part of Idris's Bond showcase.

There's a good cast of French actors, including José Garcia, who is Robert Downey's French doppelganger. Reilly is good and Madden holds his own better than in Cinderella - the bit of rough suits him.

But Elba steals the show, he really is an impressive presence. Although someone might have had words about the singing at the end. 3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Our Little Sister

Cert: PG. Now showing at IFI

Hirokazu Koreeda's origins as a documentary film-maker 25 years ago are not immediately obvious when watching this gorgeous, breeze-blown sibling saga. And yet, there is something very documentative and clear-minded about Our Little Sister, what with its tracts of kitchen-sink naturalism as well as the scarcity of melodrama or crescendos.

The seaside town of Kamakura is home to sisters Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho). All live a harmonious existence under the same roof in their late grandmother's secluded bungalow. When their long-absent father passes away, they are introduced to their 14-year-old half-sister Suzu (an angelic Suzu Hirose) at his funeral. Sachi decides to invite Suzu to visit and stay with them where she very quickly becomes part of the happy homestead and forms strong bonds with her "new" siblings. All seem to blossom with this new situation to the point that Suzu's presence feels like the last piece of the puzzle in not only their lives, but the lives of some colourful locals too.

Everything rolls along gently for two sweet hours. Hirokazu strolls along with the quartet as they all negotiate their relationship and career landscapes before letting them convene delightfully around the dinner table. Not a huge amount happens yet it is transfixing at times, largely a product of superbly moulded characters, gentle humour, refined performances and a charming devotion to human warmth.  4 Stars

Hilary A White

Brand New Testament

Cert: Club. Now showing at IFI

What would you do if you had only a limited time left to live? This is the question Belgian film-maker Jaco Van Dormael tackles in his latest film. If his conclusions aren't overwhelmingly original, the approach to setting them up is. God (Benoît Poelvoorde) is a nasty man who lives in Brussels with his wife and 10-year-old daughter Ea (Pili Groyne). As revenge for a beating, Ea lets everyone on earth know the date of their death and it changes everything. She flees to the mortal realm and recruits six apostles, among them a boy victim of Munchausen by proxy and Catherine Deneuve. Most people do as expected so the most interesting is not an apostle, but Victor, who, with 69 years left to live, becomes an unkillable internet star. 

It's magical realism á la Amélie and often funny. 4 Stars

Aine O'Connor

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