Good Kill (2014)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Drone technology is here to stay and if we’ve talking about it for a while, we might as well make a film on it. Andrew Niccol, director of Gattaca and writer of The Truman Show, brings us Good Kill. Ethan Hawke plays Major Thomas Egan, a former F-16 pilot who now flies drones from the safety of a small bunker on the outskirts of Las Vegas. With controls reminiscent of video game consoles, pilots can fly through the Afghan desert, target suspects, and annihilate an enemy from halfway across the world with no harm risked to themselves.
The performances [Niccol] elicits through Hawke, Greenwood, and Kravitz are nuanced and real.
Somehow Egan longs to fly again in real life combat, even though he can go home at the end of the day now to his wife and family. He faces the moral struggle of the violence he causes versus the peaceful life he is able to live at home. In many ways, he’s very lucky. His wife Molly (January Jones) is always there for him and his kids adore him. Lt. Colonel Johns (Bruce Greenwood), his commanding officer, thinks highly of him. Yet even with all that, his conscience gnaws away at him. The CIA’s later involvement and taking over his team exacerbates that guilt, as they have them kill people just based on a suspected pattern of behavior than hard evidence as a threat. Orders are voiced by “Langley” (Peter Coyote), an agent who is never seen in a conversation that officially never took place. People are killed at a funeral, rescuers are killed trying to save the injured, and there’s no consideration for the innocent bystanders who happen upon the scene. One order, a button is pushed in response, and like in a video game, the enemy is wiped out. Egan’s co-pilot Suarez (Zoe Kravitz), is one of the few to loudly voice the deep regret of the squad’s actions.
Niccol is no stranger to this kind of socio-political commentary. The performances he elicits through Hawke, Greenwood, and Kravitz are nuanced and real. Hawk plays a brooding man in conflict very well. There’s no question that he’s still in fine form. As his character’s accompanying alcoholism gets worse and the tension in his marriage climbs to a hilt, Hawke explodes into a very raw display of anger. January Jones plays basically an updated version of her character in Mad Men, but with more depth. Zoe Kravitz is great as Suarez and it’s wonderful that she’s given way more screen time than in her past roles. I’ve often thought of Greenwood as an alternative to Sam Neill in roles lately. Even though he spits a few “Top Gun” like sayings in here, a lot of the feelings his character is grappling with come out less as saying and more like ways of dealing with such conflicting situations. There’s more to Greenwood than the character demands and that’s a good thing.
The film even mentions that some of their recruits are found based on their gamer skills rather than their combat experience. With that in mind, Niccol’s visual comparisons of the Las Vegas desert versus the dusty Afghan landscape offer a bigger statement.
It looks like Egan is modeled in an all-American-hero aesthetic only it’s one that must internally wrestle with the ethics of modern warfare. The film even mentions that some of their recruits are found based on their gamer skills rather than their combat experience. With that in mind, Niccol’s visual comparisons of the Las Vegas desert versus the dusty Afghan landscape offer a bigger statement. The “direct threat” to American soil doesn’t have to be fought on common ground; not only that, but they can be killed just by being and acting suspect, no matter if there is evidence to their innocence.
Good Kill is a harsh commentary to how much power and money can buy the comfort and safety to a modern combatant. However, as the big leaders bang heads at the spectacle of the podium, there’s been something lost in their art of war. If war has ever been about defense, today war becomes about killing because one can.
Good Kill is a harsh commentary to how much power and money can buy the comfort and safety to a modern combatant.