The bravery of being out of range.
There are two aspects to Andrew Gattaca Niccol’s drone warfare film. One is a powerful polemic about the morality of conducting military campaigns like they’re Call Of Duty sessions; the other, an undeveloped drama about the drones behind the drones…
Ethan Hawke plays Tom Egan, a grounded pilot forced to swap the thrill of the cockpit for a nondescript control centre in the Mojave Desert. “You are now leaving the US of A” reads a sign on the door – and aren’t we just? Inside, Egan, Suarez (Zoë Kravitz) and colleagues command a fleet of drones capable of blowing up enemy suspects around the world with impunity.
The ease of execution is terrifying. Niccol keeps the combat scenes credible, tense and harrowing, a cursor on the screen spelling sudden death for men, women and children 7,000 miles away. “Was that a war crime, sir?” asks Suarez bitterly; to her colleagues, it’s just a war game. Bruce Greenwood’s angry CEO conversing almost exclusively in Top Gun buzz-terms: “Nothing explodes like explosives!”
Away from the fray, the film falls apart faster than Egan’s home life. Unhappily married (to January Jones’ Molly), he drinks away the pain in the flat Las Vegas suburb they inhabit: the lights of the Strip, a symbol of the excitement he lacks, glimpsed in the distance. He misses the thrill of “real war” – a hypocrisy Niccol refuses to explore – while Molly just wants her husband back. “She thought I was exciting in a boring kind of way,” says Egan of their early courtship.
Shame their scenes together are boring in a boring kind of way, because in the chill of computerised battle, there’s an important film in here somewhere.