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To hit the button or not to hit the button: That is the question posed by “Eye in the Sky,” a thoughtful, provocative dissection of modern combat and its moral and ethical implications.

Director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”) delivers a first-rate thriller that weighs the principles of drone warfare against a backdrop of political motivations and human concerns. Screenwriter Guy Hibbert also manages to weave a wry layer of satire into the story, making it a sharp study of workplace protocol where everyone has a boss to whom they need to answer.

The action is centered on a small village in Nairobi, Kenya, where a terror suspect is preparing for an attack. Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is leading a secret drone strike on the target, but when an innocent girl sets up a stand to sell bread in what would be the line of fire, it calls the entire mission into question.

A global game of hand-wringing ensues, with parties in England, Hawaii, Singapore and Las Vegas debating the pros, cons and political fallout from the attack. The late, great Alan Rickman is a British intelligence official flying decisions up the chain of command, and his presence is measured, but massive. Academy Award nominee Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”) is an undercover agent on the ground in Nairobi, and “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul is a conflicted drone pilot with his finger on the trigger inside a small military base in Las Vegas.

Hood keeps the action tense throughout this nail-biter, which unfolds like a taut stage play. It offers no easy answers, only difficult questions about following orders and the cost of war.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

‘Eye in the Sky’

GRADE: B+

Rated R for some violent images and language

Running time: 102 minutes

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