This is a look at the frustrated and conflicted life of a pilot, played by Ethan Hawke, who sits thousands of miles from war in a station in the Las Vegas desert. He works out of an over-sized metal box which inside looks like a cockpit. He works with a co-pilot and their job is to control drones that target selected sites, persons, or groups, depending what their intel tells them to do. A good kill is when they hit efficiently and quickly strike the enemy.
Ethan Hawke’s character is a pilot who once flew jets on assignment in enemy territory. Since the federal government’s realization that it can better contain the cost in terms of life and money by substituting a human piloted plane with a drone, he and pilots like him have been grounded to remote-control mode. Because of their seeming insulation from the war zone, their hits are almost like they’re playing a video game.
There’s a sense of detachment, yet the setting can also magnify the scenes taking place in the war zone to beyond real life. One of the scenes Hawkes’ character and his team witnesses is a woman who repeatedly gets raped by a man. However, they can’t simply fire a missile at the man because his action is not related to their cause. This is one of the contributing factors for driving his character to excessive drinking. He goes through a gradual decline in various aspects of his life. He drinks from the tediousness of the job, which requires long stretches of time waiting until it’s appropriate to strike. He also misses the “high” he gets in actually flying a real airplane. Add to this the morality issue he wrestles with when his group is reassigned to work with the CIA and they are ordered to kill a group of people to ensure taking out the one targeted person. Never mind if there is collateral damage.
Between his drinking and internalized conflicts at work, his home life deteriorates. His wife, played by January Jones, is loving and understanding, but he can’t bring himself up to confide in her all the pain he feels about his job and his desire to fly.
Will he be overcome with depression? Or, does he survive? This is a good stopping point so you can go watch and see what happens. The film shows us that war doesn’t have to be experienced physically close up and personal to suffer the same psychological trauma in fighting remotely. War takes a toll no matter from where you’re fighting.