starring Grégoire Colin, Lizzie Brocheré, Slimane Dazi
written and directed by David Verbeek
by Walter Chaw Brilliant if often a bit too on-the-nose, Dutch filmmaker David Verbeek's Full Contact takes on the state of modern man by detailing America's drone war. I heard a thing on NPR a while back talking about how the traditional metric of tracking a battle group's efficiency by tallying its loss-to-kill ratio has been blown of late by drone groups that have thousands of kills to zero losses. It's an existentially frightening situation in which Nintendo skills not only predict military success, but also potentially engender the same sort of desensitization regarding the tactile obscenity of murder. The movie's title is a clue to its intentions, then: Verbeek follows drone captain Ivan (Grégoire Colin), sequestered away in a bunker somewhere in Nevada where he pilots drone aircraft, bristling with munitions, into somewhere in the Middle East, the better to assassinate tagged targets. He communicates via live messaging and a headset (the way a kid on an Xbox 360 might, essentially), and one day, though he suspects better, he hits a target that turns out to be a school. Outside, he befriends a stripper, Cindy (Lizzie Brocheré), telling her he's impotent although he's not.
Ivan isn't a lot of things. He's not verbal, outwardly emotional, or interested in social niceties. At one point, a mosquito lands on his firing arm and he lets it have its fill. It's a nice reference to Psycho. For the first third of the film, Ivan is a psycho, and it's easy to worry that Verbeek has created a conventional critique of how modern warfare has become a technological, dehumanizing perversion. But then, once he leaves his stripper girlfriend after a sequence that would have done Atom Egoyan proud, resulting in one of the times Full Contact is way too obvious about itself ("I thought I could care for you. You don't even exist!"), Verbeek shifts gears. Ivan wakes in a blasted wasteland, his only companion for days (weeks? months?) a stray dog and a few crabs he makes into a frugal repast. Eventually, he is allowed to confront the target he was meant to terminate when he killed a school instead. He does this at one step removed rather than two. And then Verbeek shifts gears again and Ivan is a baggage handler in Paris who enlists at a Persian gym to learn boxing and grappling. Now he's in the titular "full contact" with his subject.
Full Contact is a conversation--sometimes a very good one, sometimes a vaguely condescending one--about masculinity and aggression and what happens when men are removed from their aggression yet continue to perpetuate aggressive actions. At its best, it measures the toll of this world in images. In the Paris section, Ivan meets Cindy again, recast now as a single, working mom. She's acts the same, just her job is different--and though Ivan is more in touch with his anger, with a proper outlet for it, he mostly acts the same as well. Yet there seems to be room for him now. In the final scene, there is the suggestion that he is no more civilized, but perhaps better equipped to survive in the wasteland. Again, the film is best when it doesn't offer autoanalysis and worst when it endeavours to provide context. A late-in-the-game embrace teeters right on the edge of Gavin O'Connor territory, and the movie is weaker for it. It's ultimately not as courageous as it should be--as, in moments, it manages to be. Full Contact when it works hums along with a powerful simplicity. If it's a near miss, it's a worthy one. Programme: Platform