A British import that poses the question: Which is more important – Saving one life or 80? In the last screen appearance of the late Alan Rickman, this gripping thriller doesn’t have any red herrings, twists or turns, third act surprises, or deus ex machinas. Told in real time and with real situations that could happen (and probably have), you get an insiders look at what goes on during terrorist captures.
From a London’s Whitehall board room full of high-powered officials to a British war room to a Nevada drone pilot center to a South African village and more, the players are all introduced. In the theater of terrorism, a secret spy drone in the sky above South Africa has pin-pointed a potential threat. A house in the middle of a village has become target zero for a possible meeting of two renegade British and one American citizens turned terrorists of #1 terrorist, Al-Shabaab.
While their identities is still sketchy, Colonel Katherine Powell (Hellen Miren) has her hands full at HQ command. Are they really meeting there or not? They call up Jamal Farah (Barkhad Abdi), a Kenyan undercover agent and his flying robotic spy-beetle (way cool!) to find out more. They’re suspicions are confirmed when, not only are the key players all there, but they’re making suicide bomb vests!
Powell calls for an immediate Hellfire missile strike to decimate the house, the terrorists, and the bombs. Negotiations are quickly enacted with Lt. General Frank Benson (Rickman) and his nervous cabinet members as they talk about wiping out British & American citizens; they have to get permission to kill them. They move on to see what collateral damage will occur to the surrounding area when them bomb the building. Okay, everything’s ready to go except for one small problem. . . and she’s 12-years-old!
A farm girl named Alia (Aisha Takow) decides to take that moment to set up shop on the corner by the house to sell bread for her family! Oh no!! If they strike now, they’ll be a 85% chance she’ll die as a result of the blast. Farah is sent to buy all her bread and send the kid packing, but he runs into problems. With everything being watched and scrutinized on video, this little girl’s life is suddenly being judged by people she has no concept of. Should she die and therefore save the lives of hundreds of others with the death of the suicide bombers inside OR let her live and risk the suicide bombers leaving and killing others?
A terrible scenario of “passing-the buck” is played out from person to person in real time, as they all watch in desperation the terrorists assemble their suicide vests AND Alia selling her bread. Who will decide who lives and who dies? Well, they better make up their minds fast, ’cause the terrorists are getting ready to leave! Whatever the outcome, no one’s walking away from this day unscathed.
A damn fine screenplay by Guy Hibbert and one that keeps you on the edge of your seat guessing what’s going to happen next. It also gives you a gripping account of some the hard-nosed and painful decisions that are made everyday by the high ranking officials that keep us safe. It also offers up to you, the audience member, to think about what you would do in a situation like this and life and death moral decisions. Would you let the kid live or die?
Even though this is a work of fiction, director Gavin Hood, who gave us Ender’s Game and X-men Origins: Wolverine, really knows how to play this out like it really happened. Taught, dramatic, nail-biting, and with just a sly hint of humor to alleviate the tension. Okay, so the mini-drones (the hummingbird and beetle) aren’t real. . .yet. . .but they’re in ‘development”. Highly recommended to go see.
Fail Safe (1964)
Talk about your moral dilemmas! Sheesh! In this taught-as-a-wire Cold War film and shot in glorious black and white, Henry Fonda plays the POTUS, and has to make decisions that he’d just assume not have to make. It involves a bomber plane carrying a nuclear payload headed for Russia. Strap in, we’re in for a bumpy ride!
Based on the same novel, the film innocently begins with a simple mistake. Things like this happen everyday, right? An alert is initiated by the USAF’s warning system that an unidentified flying object is making an unauthorized intrusion into American airspace. Now, defense protocols mandate that we, the good guys, always keep several bombers airborne 24 hours a day in the event of a nuclear attack. Y’know. . .just in case.
But following the alert (it was just a wayward commercial plane), bombers are ordered to proceed back to their predetermined “fail-safe” point. However, a computer glitch sends a mistaken “go code” to one bomber squadron, ordering them to attack Moscow! Uh-oh! US HQ tries to rescind the order, but fails. On board the bomber, all radio communications between the bomber squadron and HQ have been jammed. The pilot, Colonel Jack Grady (Edward Binns), commands his squadron to continue to their target. Oh, @%&# !!
Every attempt to try and rectify the problem is an epic fail and and soon the POTUS (Fonda) is called in with all his trusted advisers to try something… .anything… to recall the squadron or shoot them down. Telephone communications are begun with the Soviet Chairman (who is none to happy to hear about this “mistake”). In a gripping scene, Buck, the President’s interpreter (Larry Hagman) is not only translating the language, but the vocal inflections of the Soviet Chairman.
Finally, radio communications are made with the pilot who talks directly with President. The Prez tells Jack exactly what happened and orders him to stand down and return to base. BUT! Jack remembers all his training and protocols and dismisses it all a Soviet ruse! Oh &%#@ again!! It’s too late to shoot them down and there is nothing left to do; Moscow is going to be annihilated! The President apologizes to the Soviet Chairman, accepts full responsibility and, as an act of full contrition (and to appease the Soviets) the Prez orders NYC to be nuked. I’m not kidding. That’s how it ends!
A screenplay by Peter George and Walter Bernstein and adapted like a stage play, director Sidney Lumet shot it just like a theatrical play. The result is polarizing with in-your-face close-up’s where you can see the tension and fear, not to mention the sweat dripping off the actor’s brow. It was a bold move that didn’t do well at the box office, because of the overall frightening theme. That ending wasn’t the happiest ever, know what I mean? But you gotta watch this movie for the acting! Dan O’Herlihy, Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver, a very young Dom DeLuise before he jumped into comedies, and Dana Elcar are just some of the incredible cast.
Later that same year, a parody of this film came out and scored HUGE. Stanley Kubick’s Dr. Strangelove with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott skewered the premise of “mutual destruction through thermo-nucleur war” and managed to get major laughs instead of gasps. Who can forget Slim Pickens riding that falling nuke like a bucking bronco? Funny stuff! Fail Safe even got the LIVE treatment in 2000 when it was shown on TV as a live stage play starring George Clooney, Richard Dreyfuss, and Noah Wyle.