Published Sep 21, 2015Initially, David Verbeek's fragmented psychological thriller, Full Contact, plays like a slightly less contrived, more introspective version of Good Kill. Ivan (Grégoire Colin) is a military drone operator, shooting down targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan from the safety of a bunker in the Nevada desert. When he isn't blowing up strangers with steely indifference, he's speeding around Las Vegas on a motorcycle, occasionally hitting on strippers while indulging in a little after-work cocktail.
Verbeek, a Dutch director with a propensity for making films about, or that take place in, other nations, does an effective job of building a standard narrative around this premise. Ivan is cold and disconnected, which is mirrored by Verbeek's lingering, stationary aesthetic composition. Extended shots highlight the eerie calm in our protagonist, such as a moment in which a fly walks along his hand in the bunker as he's getting ready to bomb an Afghani compound.
Presumably, the secondary storyline, wherein Ivan develops an unlikely friendship with Cindy (Lizzie Brocheré), a stripper at his favourite haunt, should aid in revealing a bit of humanity beneath the cold façade. He confides in her that he's impotent and assures her of noble intentions — she's guarded and familiar with the usual bullshit her clients feed her to get a free private show — but even this proves to be a front.
Once Ivan inadvertently decimates a compound full of young students — faulty intel is the culprit (a generic, modernist reiteration of surveillance culture anxieties) — the narrative fragments almost entirely, jumping to an alternate reality in which Ivan is fully nude on a rock in the desert, killing and eating crabs to survive.
Though there's nothing subtle about the metaphor here — Ivan is stripped bare, exposed and left to his own devices — Verbeek's overt disconnect from a well-established narrative trajectory is intriguing. Full Contact acknowledges its own inability to determine just what makes a man like this tick, shifting gears and moving into pseudo-impressionist territory, finding different ways for Ivan to engage with his bombing victims and the woman he hurt. It appears that Verbeek is attempting to present his protagonist's inner state by when he shows him fearful and panicked before embarking on yet another narrative tangent that repositions his character and reacquaints him with Cindy in an airport lost luggage-tracking center.
These various storylines, each of which modify Ivan's disposition and identity performance, all lead back to similar ideas. As he trains to fight with his group of young Afghani students — the ones he bombed — the simultaneous camaraderie and fighting represents both his psychological attempts to identify with his victim while reconciling the nature of conflict through basic hand-to-hand combat. Similarly, the humanity Ivan brings to the lost luggage claim, asking questions about the people who might own the various suitcases while Cindy responds professionally and indifferently to the situation, distorts the dynamic between the two, even though the same evolution of connection ultimately unfolds.
Once everything comes full circle, in a pretty obvious and politically moralistic manner, Verbeek's intentions, if not necessarily his methods, become clear. And since his style is so specific and reserved, shifting from each story fragment to reflect a different state of mind (once we're embedded in Ivan's psychology, particularly during fight training, the lighting becomes theatrical and the shot composition symmetrical), there's a definite sense of intent and consideration for every moment of film. If there's a flaw, it's that the politics are a bit tired and everything ultimately loops back to a rather obvious, comparative image, thus nullifying some of the mystery that this Lynchian structure generated.
Of course, since Verbeek appears to be challenging the lack of humanity within the military complex and the sort of psychology that such detachment manifests, the assertion that this is a "flaw" is debatable; a director trying to clarify his thesis isn't necessarily a bad thing. It'd just be nice if the abstraction of it all was left open to more potential interpretation and was a little less status quo in political trending.