Given the recent release of Ender’s Game, it’s fitting that Drones is now screening at AFI Fest. Ender’s Game explores a futuristic war where we use children and their affinity for technology to play essentially video games to enact epic battles on the edges of space. Drones follows two drone pilots on a day where the mission becomes a bit too muddled. Who’s Al Queda, who’s a peaceful civilian, and how can you tell when you’re thousands of miles away? Your only clues are seen though a small camera to distinguish who’s the bad guy and who’s not.
Taking place all in one cramped, hot bunker in the middle of nowhere in Nevada, we follow Lieutenant Sue Lawson on her first day on the job. After washing out at flight school thanks to a detached retina, she’s now at the seen-as-sub-par drone trailer. Not only does she have the demotion to deal with, her airman isn’t exactly the image of a modern feminist. While not overbearing, there are enough small moments of him leering, snide comments about being emotional, and such to make it clear that he’s not exactly 100% okay with being a subordinate to a woman, no matter who her father is.
Where Drones truly succeeds is showing the moral complexity of modern drone warfare. We follow a supposedly known Al-Queda terrorist on his birthday, celebrating with family and friends. We’re always at a distance, seeing this through the eyes of the drone surveillance camera, truly highlighting just how limiting that knowledge can be. While Airman Jack seems wholly committed to just following orders, Lte. Lawson isn’t quite ready to stop asking questions. When things start to go south, with the possibility of civilian casualties, that’s where the suspense truly kicks in. The audience is left to wonder who’s right, who’s wrong, and who’s lying to who.
This is one film where you’ll be talking about it long after the credits roll.