Release Date: May 26, 2017
Director: Jason Bourque
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes
Jason Bourque’s latest film, Drone, is an unfortunately boring addition to recent films interrogating the impacts of drone warfare on the pilots and decision makers.
Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill was first and worked as a character study of a drone pilot with massive access to surveilling evil but a very limited ability to act. Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky was next and offered a procedural look at the international decision making that goes into drone strikes. Drone on the other hand is a film where the perpetrators of drone strikes are threatened with their actions coming back to haunt them.
The film follows drone pilot Neil Wistin (Sean Bean) and his wife Ellen (Mary McCormack) and son Shane (Maxwell Haynes). Neil’s father died recently, and he has to write the eulogy. Ellen is having an affair, and the man she’s involved with wants to increase the commitment. Shane feels bitter about having witnessed his grandfather’s death alone while Neil was at work.
There are racists everywhere in the Wistins’ neighborhood. A Muslim man from Pakistan, Imir Shaw (Patrick Saboungui), walks past the Wistins’ driveway where Neil has a boat up for sale. Shaw asks to buy the boat, and Wistin asks him to stay for dinner with the whole family. Shaw has a mysterious briefcase with him and a story about a dead wife and daughter in Pakistan. Stop me if you see where this is going.
The problem with a setup like this is that it’s effectively a lifetime movie with a cast far too talented for the material. The writing in each scene feels like the film is throwing a brick at the audience. SECRETS! SADNESS! PAIN! RACISM! REVENGE! And that’s because, like the antagonist of the film, the plot is putting in just the minimum amount of required effort to make a vague point about drone warfare and keeping one’s hands clean in war.
It’s the difference between a great story that, through the interaction of characters and the unveiling of events, says something about the human condition and a platitude being forced down your gullet by characters who have no personality, only to serve the platitude.
It’s the difference between films like Whiplash or Birdman, where the compelling story provokes thought in the viewers that may result in fundamentally different philosophical conclusions, and films like Drone, where the conclusion that the film presents to you is “drone warfare is cowardly.”
A critic should be able to describe the plot of a film without revealing the moral of the story. If you can’t (and here I really can’t) then the story has been constructed in such a way that it isn’t concerned with telling an interesting story. That makes for bad filmmaking.