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Review: Drone


A rookie Air Force drone pilot finds himself increasingly attached to a target he watches from halfway around the world.


Set amidst the ever-evolving world of aerial warfare, Justin S. Lee’s military drama explores the role of anonymity in the war on terror. This character-driven story follows rookie drone pilot Matt (Daniel Sharman) as he dives headlong into doling out justice with impunity upon enemies of the state. Inevitably he discovers that his job will not be quite that easy.

Despite all of the big budget military trappings of this film, Drone is an intimate journey with a man slowly peeling away his perceptions of what it means to serve his country in the arena of war. He does not meet his enemies with their weapons drawn or in the midst of a violent plot against innocent civilians. Matt is forced to prove his mettle by anonymously dropping a bomb on a man watching the sunset with his child.

Guiding Matt through his entry into the ethical grey areas of drone warfare is veteran pilot Hunter Vance (Battlestar Galactica’s Michael Trucco). Vance acts as the movie’s foil for guiding Matt from naïve rookie to trained killer, however we focus on the part of Matt’s journey that deals with his moral confusion. With this as the crux of the story, Lee makes the smart choice of opting for an understated tone, before slowly ramping up the moral stakes and dramatic tension. This plays well with Trucco’s quiet and guarded performance as a man who takes no joy in his job but never fails to perform his duties with absolute conviction. One of the film’s more impressive fetes is efficiently alluding to the considerable amount of backstory attributed to Vance’s character. These elements play a large part of how the film progresses without wasting runtime by going into detail about his past.

While the premise may not be the most fresh take on drone warfare, it speaks volumes of Lee’s approach to the subject matter that the film is able to get the audience to fully invest in Matt’s crisis of conscience. More than putting a face to the “white dot” on the screen, one particular sequence shows Matt putting himself in his target’s shoes in an extremely vivid and visually absorbing way. As Matt, at first voluntarily, begins to strip away the layers of anonymity surrounding his target, we cannot help but be drawn into the ethical rabbit hole that he soon tumbles down.

The production design of this short film is on a studio motion picture level, but despite the considerable resources on display, Lee as director and screenwriter Tony Rettenmaier keep much of the action in the confined space of the drone control room. The darkness and claustrophobia of this setting plays well into the visual tone set by Lee as well as the pacing established by Yu Jung Hou and Joe Zen’s edit and creates an almost tangible sensation of being locked into having to take a life. Moreover, the feeling of confinement forces both Matt and the audience to look at the life that is about to be extinguished. Matt cannot escape or even look away from the action that he decided (perhaps in error) to take.

Sharman’s performance centres the film as he makes the journey from eager and zealous to deeply conflicted to the point of duty dereliction and finally to understanding the true weight of his responsibilities. Selling this journey to the audience is crucial and to Sharman’s credit he does not veer into the melodramatic but instead takes a steady approach to the extensive emotional development that has to occur within the film’s fourteen-minute runtime.

Over and above asking questions of the morality of killing a faceless person from halfway around the world, the film also poses the scenario of a justified target still being a human being. In doing so, the audience is forced to ask the question as to whether or not they could or should eliminate a target (even a legitimate one) in such a manner. Wisely, the film does not force the audience to take a stand on the issue, but somehow manages not to demonise the characters in the film that do take a definitive position.

Ultimately this is a story about people committing themselves to doing what they believe is the right thing to do, regardless of the toll it takes on their conscience. The subject matter is handled with care and the performances with poise. To top it off, we are treated to a film with cinematic sheen as impressive as anything you are likely to see online.

Check out Drone below.

Studio: University of Southern California | Year: 2015 | Genre: War/Drama/Thriller | Duration: 14 Mins | Suitability: Advisory

Director: Justin S. Lee | Producers: Abi Corbin, Jess Maldaner | Writer: Tony Rettenmaier

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