Friday, October 02, 2015

"Drones": two USAF personnel (in secret Nevada bunker) battle each other over conscience when identifying a terrorist drone target thousands of miles away

Drones” (2013, directed by Rick Rosenthal and written by Matt Witten), was originally conceived as a stage play.  The film draws into focus the issue of “collateral damage” of civilian targets overseas even more so than the later “Good Kill” (May 25). 

The film opens with a freight train crossing through a small western town, and then shows USAF Lt Sue Lawson (Eloise Mumson) boxing in a gym.  Then the film takes us to a little depot in the Nevada desert, a bunker were Lt. Mumford and a subordinate airman, Jack Bowles (Matt O’Leary) run a top secret drone strike shift, targeting locations in Afghanistan.

When Bowles finds a suspected terrorist at a family celebration, he calls it in.  But because children are around and also because of some nagging doubts about visual identification, Lawson has conscientious objections to following orders to hit the target.  Lawson is a general’s daughter, and a big political exchange follows, regarding a number of issues, not the least of which is military insubordination.  (The stuff about visual witness identification – based on a 10-year-old picture from a German bar -- and changes with aging is interesting.) A colonel baits Bowles to prove himself a man and carry out the strike even if the petite female tries to stop him.  (This plays on the is of gender in the military – men and women working together, even more tangentially on the past debate on gays in the military).  Then, when the brass plays up the personal aspect of how 9/11 had affected Lawson’s family, the tables turn.  It’s Bowles who objects. 

It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the very end is quite chilling, to see a purported terrorist and his kids blown to bits from 8000 miles away.

But I recall that during the Vietnam war (I didn’t go, but was drafted then), there were many incidents where civilians were killed by US soldiers’ raid of villages, as well as napalm carpet bombing.  Remember “Apocalypse Now”.

The script brings up supposed terror plans that the target was believed to have planned, including a sarin attack on a US subway system.  I don’t know if this was true.  It also describes the subject’s pre-9/11 radicalization in Germany and claims he was one of the architects of 9/11. 

The official site is here  (Phase 4 Films).  The film can be watched on YouTube for $14.99. 
The DVD has a brief interview and one deleted scene showing the selection of the airmen from a mass meeting explaining the mission.  
This film deserved more attention that it got.

I’ve reviewed “The Space Between” (Travis Fine), also based on 9/11, on my “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” (“cf”) blog.  
Picture: From the S.C. Military Museum in Columbia (near Ft. Jackson but off post). 


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