Runtime: 102 Mins
What To Expect: Anti war, fairly standard, but elevated by strong acting
When Afghanistan is invaded, the locals usually hold off before launching a serious offensive. They’ll examine the movements of their invaders, probe them here and there then various tribes start to pull resources and attack. This process can often take years, in fact things didn’t heat up in the current war there (another dead U.S. service member there this week in combat operations, despite the war being hyped as over) until 2006. Things got hot in the sand bowl there until 2010, when ISAF decided it was going for one last push. That included the use of drones, their most extensive deployment yet. The setting for this movie is 2010, and in a different desert in Arizona, USAF Major Ethan Hawke is behind the operator’s monitor.
I wondered myself why a Major would be stuck in such an ignoble position. The story acknowledges that by having Hawke’s Major desperate to get back in the air piloting a real plane, and in order to do that they force him on a ‘tour’ (virtual) of Afghanistan. The movie covers, or attacks, the US policy of attacking potential insurgents and the disconnect of using drones, operated from thousands of miles away to do it. In reality, it’s only a critique of blowing up civilians. I.e. if a man is spotted with a weapon, blow his ass to hell, even if 75% of the population carries weapons. Then, when the funeral is held for the baddie, blow it up too, because the victim’s military cohorts are likely to be in attendance.
So why not make a movie about the USAF in general doing this? Because the drone topic is one of special interest. An F-16 pilot is going to have a harder time having a personal connection with his victims, flying at mach 1. But the drone operator is watching his target constantly and sees every detail of the kill. Obviously, it’s an anti war movie. But I’m not going to critisize it on those grounds one way or another, just like I examined American Sniper from the fence (good movie) even though it’s doing the opposite and promoting the war effort almost too eagerly.
But what happens when you sit all day watching people in a steel hut in Arizona, where it’s patently obvious they’re just farmers, and a call from the CIA comes in ordering you to kill ’em all? And the guy is telling you to do it with increasing frequency?
Clichés happen. A bottle of jack hidden behind the toilet, wife leaving with the kids, smashing mirrors in a rage. There’s nothing particularly special here, other movies have done it better. But there are good performances. Hawke’s Major is reserved and played with subtlety, he’s using his skills as an actor to carry the weight of his orders. Bruce Greenwood is there as Hawke’s superior, also burdened and giving another fine, grounded performance. This movie also has my favourite line from any movie so far this year. When a cop asks Hawke how the war on terror is going, his response is “…kinda like your war on drugs”. Given that Afganistan is the engine room of the opium trade, that’s some slick dialogue. Figure it out.
Slow and uneventful, but Hawke and Greenwood make it watchable.