Ivan (Grégoire Colin) is drone pilot for the US air force. From an air-conditioned metal cabin in the Nevada desert, he controls remote missions on suspected terrorists in Central Asia. Although the drone technology gives him a close enough view of his targets to be able to make out their features and movements and despite working in a terrain that mirrors the harsh dryness of the land where his targets live, he is alienated from the targets he pursues.
One small thing Ivan does, to try and humanise the experience, is make an effort tot learn to correctly pronounce the names of the subjects he kills (a stark contrast to the mocking mispronunciation of names by his superior officers). Another is to ride his motorcycle fast down the deserted highways and in the direction of local strip clubs. In one he meets and befriends Cindy (Lizzie Brocheré), a beautiful, but emotionally reserved dancer.
In a way, this opening act of Full Contact feels like a play on Top Gun, an inversion of that overly-romaticised version of aerial combat, revised for our less romantic, post-9/11 age. As we watch Ivan deal with a mission gone wrong, where he drops bombs on a local school, through to the terse, burgeoning relationship with Cindy, it’s a compelling opening to the film.
But, Full Contact is a story in three, non-linear parts that despite sharing actors, are only connected on a metaphorical level. In the second act, we find Ivan a survivor on a rocky shore. Did he suffer a shipwreck, or a plane crash, we don’t know. But, he meets some locals who perhaps bear a resemblance to his drone targets, or not, it’s unclear. Things become even more challenging in the third act, where we meet familiar faces in yet another context, playing what seem like totally unrelated roles.
If anything holds Full Contact together, it’s Colin’s tough, stoic performance and David Boulter’s equally muscular, deeply atmospheric score. This isn’t an easy film to like, even for fans of rough, sinewy cinema. The pace is slow, the jumps between acts are disorienting, and the direction, along with Frank van den Eeden’s cinematography withhold a lot of colour and movement which could have made the film more engaging. And yet, there is a thread here, a suggestion of a theme about the connection between manhood and conflict, the effects of technological alienation, that invites the viewer to think in real time as the film unfolds. This makes Full Contact and intriguing, if not completely satisfying, cinematic experience.