Good Kill Takes A Long, Hard Look At The Detachment Of Modern Warfare.
Director: Andrew Niccol.
Writer: Andrew Niccol.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Bruce Greenwood, and Zoe Kravitz.
Opens: LOOK Cinemas.
In the past, war movies have generally focused either on the front-line soldiers who are battling to get home or the ones who become almost addicted to war that they want to stay on tours. But wars are slowly shifting to more remote affairs; instead of boots on the ground and planes in the air, many attacks are now carried out through drone strikes.
So it stands to reason that film would eventually follow suit.
And with Good Kill, it finally does. Here, we follow Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke), a drone pilot stationed in Las Vegas. He served in six tours overseas as a pilot, but since modern warfare has allowed the military to cut down on the number of pilots they continue to send, Egan's been moved back home to kill terrorists from a desk inside of a trailer in the Nevada desert.
It's quite a surreal experience: By day, he pilots drones and blows up bad guys; by night, he's home with his wife (January Jones) and kids, having cook-outs on the weekends. So it's no wonder, then, that he's eventually unsettled by it. Missing the thrill and danger of flying while on tour, he toys with the idea of requesting for a transfer. And to cope with his feelings of dissatisfaction, he starts to drink on the job.
This uncertainty about his job is paralleled by the uncertainty his wife has about their marriage. Even though Egan comes home at night, he's never really “home.” His mind is elsewhere, and it's beginning to take a toll on his marital bliss. You can see it in January Jones' eyes; her Molly is almost to the end of her rope.
In other words: This is not your normal war movie. There isn't a huge battle that the good guys must fight in the end. There isn't really even a typical bad guy to be found — just video images of Afghan rebels who are about to die via drone strike. But this film does capture well the internal strife many of these pilots must face when operating these missions. Yes, they're taking out bad guys. But what of the collateral and emotional damage, which exist in bulk? There's only so much someone can handle before all that takes its toll.
This theme is explored all throughout the film. We've seen films about soldiers who witness war in the battlefront, but looking at war through the eyes of the people who are responsible for drone strikes is new. And it's an interesting study that forces the audience to question — or at least think — about the consequences of drones existing in warfare.
Removing the plot from the on-ground action keeps things pretty basic. Here, the cast and promise alone are asked to carry the film — and Hawke and Jones, with great chemistry, are up to the task. Hawke is particularly fantastic as the somber pilot trying to find solace and meaning in his life. Writer-director Andrew Niccol deserves credit here, too: He takes his time developing dynamic characters who are struggling with morality; even his side characters feel more real than your typical background pieces.
The lack of plot does mean that things drag at points, though. If you're looking for a fast-paced modern war movie, this isn't it.
But as a new kind of war film that takes a long, hard look at a new kind of war, it accomplishes a compelling mission.