Film Review: Drone

In this polemical drama, a military contractor who works from the safety of his home office is confronted by the brutal reality of what he does for a living.
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Neil Wistin (Sean Bean), his wife Ellen (Mary McCormack) and their 16-year-old-son Shane (Maxwell Haynes) live in a pretty suburban house in Renton, Washington. Ellen and Shane believe he works in IT for some boring corporation, but Neil is actually a civilian contractor for the military. He and Gary (Joel David Moore), his partner, coordinate drone strikes from their home offices, consciences protected by the rhetoric of neutralizing targets and the fact that the closest they get to the front lines is watching video images of bad hombres getting what they deserve, relayed from half a world away. The business of killing seems barely more real than the first-person shooter games Shane plays on his phone.

Despite their comfortable lifestyle, the Wistins are less than blissfully happy: Neil's father has just died and he can't think of a thing to say to his younger brother (Kirby Morrow) or about his father—which is doubly awkward in that Neil is supposed to be writing his dad's eulogy while trying to sell his beloved boat, the portentously-named Amazing Grace, which is currently shrouded in canvas and occupying most of the Wistins' front yard. Enter Oxford-educated Pakistani businessman Imir Shaw (Patrick Sabongui), a man so gentle that he literally won't harm a fly. But he's driven by poisonous sorrow, and it isn't hard to figure out what's brought him to Neil's doorstep in the guise of a potential buyer for the hulking boat.

You could be excused for thinking that Drone must have started life as a play: The story's core is a fraught confrontation between two fathers united by grief but divided by everything else (religion, nationality, circumstance) and nothing that takes place outside the Wistin house—whether in Pakistan or just down the street—really needs to be seen. In fact, much of the film's screenplay feels like padding; to be honest, it might have been more effective as a one-act stage piece.

Though Drone comes wrapped in the trappings of a home-invasion thriller, it's less interested in ratcheting up the tension than scoring debate points about the moral implications of scrubbing the sweat and dirt from the act of killing. That would be laudable ambition if the film lived up to it, but while Bean is admirably abrasive as the simultaneously selfish and self-loathing Neil, the rest of the cast is stuck playing one-note roles that leave viewers far too much opportunity to start asking distracting questions about the plot's dubious mechanics.

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