Given the controversy and endless news coverage dedicated to drones it was only a matter of time before a film came along to address the point-click-and-kill form of modern warfare. For much of director Andrew Niccol’s career he has been a filmmaker who enjoys putting a thought in his audiences mind without forcing the issue. Good Kill is no exception and is a film that highlights the moral mud that is the basis of a pilot killing combatants, and non combatants, thousands of miles away from where the actual conflict is taking place.
While the drones fly and drop deadly payloads over Afghanistan the pilots who fly them are sitting in the Vegas desert, a short drive from the debauchery of The Strip. Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) is a no-nonsense drone operator, following orders to a tee but desperate to be back in a fighter plane. But with every kill Egan seems to disconnect from the world to the point where his wife Molly (January Jones) is desperate for any semblance of life in him. When a Egan’s unit is joined by new recruit Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) they are assigned to the CIA and find their moral compasses tested further by The Agencies insistence to put civilians at risk to take out key targets.
Good Kill never forces the issue, it’s a slight, quiet drama that unfolds at a leisurely but mesmerising pace. It lulls us into Egan’s world and headspace while putting us in the “first-person shooter” warfare that he inhabits on a daily basis. Niccols smartly never allows us to see anything in the war-zone other than what the pilots see, the aerial view, looking down at tiny figures as the pull of a trigger rains hellfire down on them, leaving nothing but a cloud of debris and dust to clear before revealing the carnage beneath it. But the more powerful images are those looking down on Egan’s house, the base and his children’s schools. Niccols utilising the same high camera angels to highlight the distance and familiarity of these locations compared to the villages and targets in the Middle-East. Like the characters watching these far off wars with a voyeuristic eye so we watch Egan’s world from a peep-hole persepective.
Hawke plays Egan with a sense of almost robotic distance, his routine firing commands rolling off the tongue as easily as bidding his wife good morning. Kravitz is the emotional core of the film, the character most representative of what we are supposed to be feeling, tears often running down her face as she witnesses the American war machine going into overdrive no matter the cost of life. That she is also the only woman in the unit while witnessing the constant abuse inflicted on women in the countries America is at war with adds a subplot of huge magnitude. January Jones does disenchanted trophy wife in her sleep these days thanks to her role in Mad Men but as always oozes a certain ball-busting sexuality to the film.
A powerful, provocative and fascinating modern war movie, Good Kill sets its sights high and hits the bulls-eye.