Drone warfare films are a dicey proposition. They can be a snooze like Ethan Hawke’s Good Kill or riveting like Helen Mirren’s Eye in the Sky. The difference lies in the stakes: While Good Kill is a standard PTSD drama that practically forgoes the targets, Eye in the Sky forces the audience to empathize with civilian bystanders.
In the bluntly titled Drone, the unmanned aircraft is more of an excuse for a hostage thriller. The frequently deceased Sean Bean is Neil Wistin, a drone pilot with plenty of issues unrelated to dropping targeted bombs: His dad just died and he is unable to write his eulogy, his wife is getting some action on the side, and his son barely communicates (the teen rather play war videogames than hanging out with dad, a dig to war culture as subtle as a sledgehammer).
On the eve of the funeral, a Pakistani businessman (Patrick Sabongui) arrives to the gradually disintegrating household. Gentle in demeanor, the man insinuates himself into the residence. You can figure out where this is going.
The Telefilm-supported Drone is not an understated affair. The script and dramatic beats are as broad as they come (the whole eulogy plot point is run into the ground). It speaks of the ethical grey areas, but not new ground is covered: Collateral damage, bad; family secrets, bad; revenge, also bad.
Thankfully, the acting is far stronger than the material the performers are given. Both Sean Bean and Patrick Sabongui make their anguish palpable and Joel David Moore is at hand as a likeable sociopath. Unfortunately, they are saddled with perfunctory dialogue and inconsistent characters. There is a critique at the privatization of war so unfocused, it barely registers.
The thriller reaches boiling point very late into the game and the denouement feels rushed. It would be a lost opportunity if it wasn’t because of the many films that already dealt with the subject and the ones that unavoidably will come. One and a half prairie dogs in the crosshairs.
Drone opens at the Rainbow Cinemas this Friday 16th and will be available for home viewing on July 4th.