Director: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz
“Drones aren’t going anywhere. They’re going everywhere”. Set in 2010 when the rise of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was gaining momentum, these prophetic words from “Good Kill” have been proven true in the past five years. UAV attacks across the Middle East are at an all-time high and their grim regularity has reduced them to mere footnotes in the press, if they’re even revealed at all. Andrew Niccol’s new drama focuses on the drone controllers of the 61st Attack Squadron, who return to their family homes in the Las Vegas suburbs after conducting operations that instantly and irrevocably change entire communities on the other side of the globe.
Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) is a veteran combat pilot, reluctantly serving through his third tour of duty as a drone operator and struggling to balance his family life with the mental strain of his work. Egan’s moral dilemma is worsened when his unit is reassigned and placed under the command of the CIA, whose coldly calculated acceptance for “collateral damage” forces him to question whether he can continue to pull the trigger on civilians under the justification of simply following orders.
It should be no surprise that Ethan Hawke embodies the unravelling Air Force Major with a perfected look of desperate frustration. Bruce Greenwood, the man you can always depend upon if you need a movie authority figure, is laboured with most of the film’s expositional weight but still manages to give a gripping performance as Hawke’s commanding officer. Zoë Kravitz is adequate as the unit’s new co-pilot, though her role as the instigator of a “will they, won’t they?”, military-affair subplot adds nothing to the story. Similarly disappointing is January Jones, who brings very little to the suffering wife character that many of her contemporaries could probably have done a lot more with.
One thing that is clear from “Good Kill” is that Andrew Niccol isn’t afraid to display his objections to the current state of military overwatch in the Middle East. During the film, a police officer asks Major Egan “How’s the War On Terror going?”, to which the pilot calmly quips back “Kinda like your War On Drugs”. Niccol is very firmly on one side of the fence, particularly when compared to Eastwood’s poker-faced observations of the Iraq War in American Sniper. Although this boldness is certainly admirable it can also be detrimental at points, like the cartoonishly villainous characterisation of the CIA removing any sense of balance from the film’s questioning of whether these strikes are justified.
Niccol plays with a theme of disconnection throughout “Good Kill”, choosing to display airstrikes exclusively from the on-board camera’s perspective and never from the actual scene. It’s an effective technique that reinforces the cold and ruthless nature of the subject matter, especially when combined with the film’s intentionally sterile locales in the Nevada desert. By the end of “Good Kill”, you’ve seen so many people instantly and silently blown to pieces that you feel as numb and as disconnected from the action as the characters firing the missiles, a clever and thought-provoking move from the director.
While “Good Kill” falls flat in some areas, its key concept is more than enough to create a intriguing film with plenty of food for thought. Set around the strange new dynamic where all that separates soldiers from their theatre of war is their drive to work, Niccol’s drama explores the psychological implications of modern warfare with an excellent lead performance from Hawke and questions that will stay with you for some time.
★ ★ ★
3 / 5 stars
Written by James Excell