On-screen strategy

I felt sucker-punched in a scene in Eye in the Sky in which the US secretary of defence doesn't think twice before asking for a drone strike in a grotty part of Nairobi where two terrorists are holed up. He gets the call from the United Kingdom, appraising him of the collateral damage (especially a nine-year-old girl), which he thinks is not a thing to be discussed at all.

The weltanschauung of this Gavin Hood-directed military drama is fascinating. This particular scene sends the message that it is Europe that cares about collateral damage, while the US is way too trigger-happy - a theory one is willing to buy, considering how, last November, the American forces kept bombing a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, despite repeated warnings from the humanitarian aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres.

As a UK-based military officer in command of a top-secret drone operation in Kenya, Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell does a brilliant job. She is just the kind of actor Hood needed to anchor the movie, which can be seen as a post-advanced warfare bedfellow of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Alan "Severus Snape" Rickman's performance as Lt Gen Frank Benson, the liaison between Powell and the UK government, showed what a special talent he possessed and that he left the planet a little too soon. As American pilot Steve Watts, Aaron Paul is his wan, crusading, recognisably sympathetic self that anyone who watched Breaking Bad beyond the third season would instantly connect with. The title of the film is derived from the character of Paul, who has full authority to bomb from a remote location - and it really makes us think indiscriminate firing can be counterproductive.

Barkhad Abdi's character of a Kenyan undercover agent delivers some of the film's most interesting moments. The scene in which his beetle-like drone camera hovers over the hideout gives us a sneak peek into the future of spying.

This relentlessly bleak movie gets its heft from the conversations between its principal characters, especially Mirren's crabby self, who is unable to handle the political correctness of the establishment. As someone who spent six years tracking the two terrorists, she doesn't want it all to be sacrificed at the altar of 10 Downing Street. Hood gets the geopolitics right down to a T, a necessity most mainstream film-makers willfully ignore (nudge-nudge, wink-wink at Clint Eastwood for American Sniper).

I was a little late to the party, but I finally managed to watch Airlift and loved every bit of it. Director Raja Krishna Menon never lets the narrative veer towards jingoism. His firm grip on geopolitics is refreshing, to say the least. The movie is set in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, leaving droves of Indians in the lurch. What got me chuffed were the scenes in which the minor characters have intriguing conversations about world politics.

Kabir Khan tried something similar in Phantom, but the plot had more holes than Swiss cheese. As a result, the movie's politics became caricaturish. On the other hand, just like Hood, Menon keeps it simple and real. Yes, the director took a little creative liberty and showed that the bureaucrats were steeped in stasis - something that's patently incorrect. But I was willing to go with the flow and that is where Menon needs to be cut some slack. He was trying to make an engaging movie, not a strictly fact-driven movie that would have made things dull.

I admire that Menon made the movie with a one-track mind, to send the stranded Indians to the safe shores. He makes it all happen in a crisp two-hour duration. And Akshay Kumar, as the saviour, revels in his most understated performance to date. It seems as though that albatross of a mindless daredevilry expert is finally off his neck and he's getting to prove his acting mettle.

Also, a big shout-out to the art department for turning Jodhpur into a cauldron-like Kuwait.


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