Oh, look, another movie about the grey area of drone strikes.
Drone strikes have their purpose, but at the risk of getting political, it’s also a safe conclusion that their use by the U.S. military has been excessive and far too deadly in the realm of collateral damage. Their presence in most films are as elements of brief action beats for “cool” kills, but the last few years have seen a handful of movies that actually focus on the strikes and their aftermath instead. Good Kill and Eye In the Sky in particular tackle the conflict faced by the drone pilots in executing missions with which they can’t help but disagree, and now the new film Drone takes it one step further.
A family shares breakfast in Pakistan before the man leaves his home to head to work. A drone strike hits him in his car and a second is fired to finish the job after the pilots see movement, but the blasts also claim the lives of two young women walking nearby. One year later another man is awakening to spend time with his family before heading off to work.
Neil (Sean Bean) is the drone pilot who fired and directed those missiles twelve months earlier, and while his wife Ellen (Mary McCormack) and son Shane (Maxwell Haynes) have no clue what his job entails he’s not really all that conflicted. The secrecy is simply part of the job. His daily drudgery comes to a halt though when a stranger arrives at his front door expressing an interest in the boat marked for sale in their driveway. Neil invites Imir (Patrick Sabongui) in, and the pair share conversation before being joined by Neil’s family. The dialogue grows from there to encompass the recent passing of Neil’s father, certain of Ellen’s behaviors, and eventually the truth behind Neil’s job and Imir’s purpose in their home.
Director/co-writer Jason Bourque lets the impending conflict brew beneath the surface of other tensions and revelations before finally unveiling the reason these two men have come together. It’s an odd choice — it’s literally ninety minutes until the connection spoken about between them — but while the restraint is appreciated it comes at a cost.
The core conflict here, the most dramatically engaging one, is between Neil and Imir, but we’re instead immersed in Neil’s issues with his father, Shane’s own complicated feelings on the subject, and Ellen’s own secretive affairs. None of it adds to the film’s drama — it’s a lot of mopiness that fails to gel with viewers — and instead feels like filler while we wait for the more suspenseful and engaging narrative to take hold. Adding to the sluggishness is the reality that viewers already know the connection well before it gets confirmed.
Performances are fine in general (even if Bean’s hair leaves a few questions hanging in the air), but Sabongui is given the chance toe excel with a damaged character. Happily, he does in scenes ranging from mournful silences to unexpected harassment by a jerky, stereotypical American in a park. Imir is a man in pain, and Sabangui makes that suffering into something tangible for the rest of us to experience alongside him. He’s presenting another side to the debate, the expected and sensical side to be sure, but he does so with an earnest empathy towards a situation birthed half a world away.
Drone goes off on a few too many tangents, but its core theme comes through by the time the credits roll. Whether its worth waiting for it to hit though is a different story.