GENRE: War / Drama
DIRECTOR: Andrew Niccol
CAST: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Jake Abel and Bruce Greenwood
DISTRIBUTOR: Arrow Films
RELEASE DATE: 10th April 2015
DURATION: 102 minutes
So the surprise film at this year’s JDIFF was drum roll… Good Kill. Andrew Niccol (Gattaca and In Time) and his long-time collaborator, Ethan Hawke, team up again in this war thriller. In short, Good Kill was a good movie, but not great. All will be explained in due course. But first thing’s first…
The past decade has seen real-life drone pilots fighting for legitimacy and respect from the general public. Due to operating UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles), they are scornfully referred to by many as the US Chair Force, cowardly controllers and glorified gamers. Unsurprisingly, they face harsh criticism over the death toll that these drone strikes have taken on civilians around the world. The workload, scrutiny and psychological trauma has led many drone pilots to quit. With this in mind…
Set in 2010, Good Kill sees Major Thomas Egan (played by Hawke), a former fighter pilot, re-assigned by the US Air Force to operate UCAVs from a remote base in Las Vegas in order to bomb several terrorists cells in the Middle East. Yet despite not flying a manned aircraft in the battlefield anymore, he begins to develop posttraumatic stress disorder and starts to question the ethics of his profession.
A premise like this purposefully explores the fascinating ethical debate surrounding the imbalance between warring sides due to drones as well as the mental state of those serving in the military. War is war. Although UCAVs are all about logistics – the less troops out in these war zones, the less troops come home with wounds or in coffins.
It must be a uniquely surreal mindfuck to bomb people from a far-flung station. Although drone pilots are halfway across the world from their targets, there is an unimagined intimacy that the film captures well. Egan alongside his colleagues Vera Suarez, Zimmer and Colonel Jack Johns – played respectively by Zoë Kravitz (Divergent), Jake Abel (The Host) and Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek reboot film series) – are flies on the wall. Although over 7,000 miles away, they observe intimate things on their cameras way more sensitive than what any fighter pilot could ever witness flying overhead.
Ultimately, Good Kill lacks real depth. Yes, it imparts much understanding on what it means to be a drone pilot. Egan’s disillusion is portrayed numerous times throughout – wolfing down vodka and drink driving; detachment from his wife Molly, played by January Jones (Mad Men and X-Men: First Class); as well as defying commands from the CIA. But I never truly felt how deeply tormented he was with his life’s work. Despite this, Hawke gives a confidently restrained performance.
Kravitz subtly gives Suarez a sardonic edge as her character scorns the questionable CIA profiling methods. However, the will-they-won’t-they arc between Suarez and Egan is just pointless.
Abel effectively lends Zimmer a seemingly unaffected front as the character proves to be reliable and professional – at one time picking up the slack for Egan. Yet Zimmer has that stereotypical “if we don’t bomb them, they’ll bomb us” jock-like attitude.
While Greenwood gives a fitting portrayal of Col. Johns as a by-the-book character. While Jones’ gives a good-but-safe performance of Molly.
On one hand, the supporting characters are unclear and the dialogue is quite thin. I found myself more intrigued about the subject matter then I did about the characters. I ultimately blame the screenplay for the absence of an emotional hook. In turn, the movie score by Christopher Beck is quite modest – almost unnoticeable at times. This doesn’t help if the script is lacking because it shine an even brighter spotlight on the characterisation and storylines.
On the other hand, the strikes themselves are taken from Wikileaks. This adds a chilling dose of realism while watching Good Kill. For all of this, I’ll have to give this movie a…