Synopsis: A family man begins to question the ethics of his job as a drone pilot.
Release Date: May 22, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Just as war has changed over the years, so have war movies. It was only a matter of time until someone made a movie about the detached distance fighting of drone strikes. That movie is Good Kill.
Good Kill stars Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Sinister) as Major Thomas Egan, an air force pilot who has been assigned to a drone piloting crew that consists of Captain Ed Christie (Let Me In‘s Dylan Kenin) , Mission Specialist Joseph Zimmer (The Host‘s Jake Abel), and Airman Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz from Mad Max: Fury Road). Tommy wants nothing more than to get back in the cockpit of an F-16 and do some real flying, but his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood from Star Trek Into Darkness), keeps him on drone duty. His team’s missions are to pilot their unmanned aerial vehicle and take out terrorists from 20,000 feet.at least, that is until they are reassigned to take orders from the CIA. The CIA does things differently, acting on suspicion of terrorism rather than on hard proof. The CIA also orders Tommy and his team to fire on targets when innocents are present and civilian casualties are inevitable. Tommy is even asked to fire upon those who come to rescue the incapacitated targets of the initial strike. These new guidelines have the team walking the line between obeying orders and committing war crimes, and Tommy has a crisis of faith over it, not only in himself, but in the country which he has been sworn to serve.
The best way to describe Good Kill would be to say that it is Top Gun with a conscience. Writer/director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) has put together a unique war movie that never even leaves the cozy confines of an American military base. It has some of the feel-good patriotism of a thinly-veiled recruitment film, but there’s some focus on the rough stuff as well. The real war takes place inside of Tommy’s head, with the solider suffering from frustration over his current assignment as well as a sort of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (without the “post” part) that affects everything from the effectiveness of his team to his relationship with his wife, Molly (January Jones from “Mad Men”). There are no flybys or dogfights in Good Kill, but it’s not that kind of war movie; it’s not the most exciting or action packed of movies, but it makes its point, and it does it well.
There’s an interesting parallel in Good Kill between the deserts of Afghanistan, where the drone strikes are taking place, and the military base outside of Las Vegas – another desert – from where Tommy’s team controls the aircraft. The locations almost become their own characters in the film, with Tommy and his crew half a world away from the danger yet still responsible for the death and destruction that occurs in them. Looking through the drone’s camera lens at the targets, Tommy feels a passive sense of detachment, which is why he desperately wants to get back behind the controls of a real plane. As Tommy drives down the Las Vegas strip towards his home, he is surrounded by monumental tributes to faraway lands – the Luxor’s pyramid, Paris Las Vegas’ faux Eiffel Tower, the Venetian’s tower and bridge – all of which just serve to remind him of the world outside his bubble, a bubble which he is unable to leave.
For its part, Good Kill does not really condemn the practice of drone warfare; on the contrary, it actually kind of glorifies it, making the drone pilots seem cool for basically being able to kill things with a video game controller. Of course, once the CIA starts to order civilian strikes, the practice comes into question, but the real enemy is the faceless voice over the intercom (played by Peter Coyote from The Legend of Billie Jean); the pilots are just following orders. Good Kill isn’t quite the rah-rah recruitment film that Top Gun is, but it’s not exactly a war-is-hell picture like Platoon, either.
There seems to be a strong desire to convey the concept of drone warfare to the general public within the dialogue in Good Kill. Maybe too strong. Andrew Niccol’s dialogue contains such on-the-nose gems as “I blew away six Taliban in Pakistan just today, now I’m going home to barbeque” and “war is now a first-person shooter, but you pull the trigger here, it’s real.” Both are factual statements that convey necessary knowledge about the characters and situations, but they’re also way too obvious. Everything is spoken verbally in Good Kill – there’s zero subtext in a movie that should be dripping with it. There are some places when the obvious dialogue works in its favor, such as in one scene where Tommy pulls up next to a cop and the cop asks him “how’s the war on terror going?” and Tommy replies “kind of like your war on drugs,” showing that he knows that America is fighting an unwinnable conflict. But, most of the time, lines like “that’s my job” and “he stepped on an IED” are interspersed with military jargon like “permission to prosecute” and “warheads on the foreheads.” The film’s title, Good Kill, even comes from the spoken acknowledgement that a drone strike has successfully hit its target. The one-dimensional storyline can be forgiven, but the spoon-fed dialogue can’t, and it turns the important statement film that Good Kill could have been into a meaningless melodrama that is quotable for all the wrong reasons.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Andrew Niccol
- Producer(s): Mark AminNicolas ChartierZev Foreman
- Screenwriter(s): Andrew Niccol
- Cast: Ethan HawkeBruce GreenwoodJake Abel Dylan KeninJanuary JonesZoë KravitzPeter Coyote
- Editor(s): Zach Staenberg
- Cinematographer: Amir Mokri
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s): Hamid Ait TimaghritJo Edna BoldinAvy Kaufman
- Music Score: Christophe Beck
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA