Director: Andrew Niccol
Screenplay: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kravitz, January Jones
Running Length: 102 minutes
Synopsis: In the shadowy world of drone warfare, combat unfolds like a video game – only with real lives at stake. After six tours of duty, Air Force pilot Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) yearns to get back into the cockpit of a real plane, but he now fights the Taliban from an air-conditioned box in the Las Vegas desert. When he and his crew start taking orders directly from the CIA, and the stakes are raised, Egan’s nerves – and his relationship with his wife (January Jones) – begin to unravel. Revealing the psychological toll drone pilots endure as they are forced to witness the aftermath of their fight against insurgents, Andrew Niccol directs this riveting insider’s view of 21st-century warfare, in which operatives target enemies from half a world away.
Review: What happens when war can be conducted remotely, when obliterating human lives is reduced to an operator using a joystick thousands of miles away, and reviewing the carnage on a monitor? Does this reduce the emotional toll of war for the aggressor, and does it result in a more clinical, detached view of the casualties and collateral damage of waging a war? This is the grim scenario and tough questions that Good Kill puts forth, and is indeed one of the most relevant war movies that has been released in years. However, Andrew Niccol has directed and written the movie with a rather heavy hand, which actually lessens the impact that the movie has on audiences.
Ethan Hawke puts forth a solid, credible performance as Thomas Egan, and manages to convey a complex gamut of emotions without that many lines of dialogue. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his supporting cast – almost everyone is used either as a plot device or an expositional tool, and remains essentially dimensionless as characters.
Given the nature of the interactions in Good Kill, there is very little action to be had, but Niccol manages to ramp up the tension even given these confines. Although the action is viewed vicariously through a TV monitor and usually without any sound, it remains riveting and visceral, with such a high level of perceived realism that I found myself holding my breath each time the trigger is pulled. This is by far the most successful aspect of the film, and one that would likely stay with the viewer long after the credits roll.
Although it’s undeniable that Niccol has picked a very timely and relevant topic in Good Kill, his incessant soapboxing and moralizing comes across as a bit too much. It also doesn’t help that the various subplots (particularly the unnecessary romantic tension between Egan and new airman Suarez (Zoe Kravitz)). Even the disembodied voice from Langley barking out executive commands via conference call falls prey to this, having to explain the administration’s rationale for issuing morally ambiguous kill orders at every turn. It’s a particularly clunky way of putting one’s point across, important as it may be.
Rating: * * * (out of four stars)