- on Friday, 15 May 2015 16:29
- by Frank Wilkins
In an early scene of Andrew Niccol’s blistering critique of drone warfare titled Good Kill, Ethan Hawke’s character, Maj. Tom Egan, questions why he and his fellow military drone pilots wear flight suits. It’s a fair question since, rather than strapping into the cockpit of a fully-equipped F-16, they plop down in comfy recliners with joysticks in hand while crammed into air-conditioned shipping containers that double as drone command centers thousands of miles away from the people they are killing.
Tom’s question is born of the moral conflicts and ethical gray areas faced by those who pilot these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Are they really soldiers? Is it a display of cowardice to kill an enemy when there’s no danger at stake? We’re asked to consider the arguments against drone warfare, but in the same breath, the film makes a sound argument of its necessity.
Often plucked from amongst gamers in shopping malls, these “pilots” have little to no military training but are sought after for their adept gaming skills and familiarity with a Playstation joystick rather than for their flying abilities. Unlike Tom, a retired F16 fighter pilot who flew in 4 tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, this new breed of warrior is far removed from the feelings of cowardice experienced by those fighting in country. Niccol is interested in exploring what this new kind of warfare does to the men who push buttons, watch people die, then tally the body count.
Tom is battling this new schizophrenia of war - after killing Talibani militants all day, he goes home to his family in the peaceful Las Vegas suburbs to enjoy an evening BBQ. Strangely, he suffers from a type of shell shock brought about by grieving those soldiers who actually die fighting the enemy while also feeling the guilt of being so far away. Hawke adeptly portrays his Tom with a foreboding silence that forms the film’s emotional center. Tom’s problem isn’t necessarily with the war. Rather it’s with him wanting to get back in the seat of a real plane and to fight a real enemy. Like we saw from the men in American Sniper and The Hurt Locker, Tom needs that combat rush and isn’t getting it from the vodka bottle he nurses heartily.
The narrative frequently leans a bit too much towards boilerplate at times as Tom’s drinking becomes nearly comical (was that a bottle stashed in the commode tank) and January Jones, yet again, portrays another troubled housewife in a failing marriage. But ironically, Good Kill is most effective in its depiction of the mundane dullness of this deadly accurate form of killing. Controllers sit side-by-side patiently awaiting their targets before calmly locking, loading, pulling the trigger and proclaiming “good kill,” a term that most assuredly confirms a self-distance from culpability. A kill is a good one when enemy combatants die, but there’s a creeping discomfort from the claims of “acceptable proportionality” when innocents are caught in the collateral damage, an attitude highlighted when a nameless CIA operative (the voice of Peter Coyote) takes over calling the shots and ramps up a bombing campaign with far less stringent rules of engagement.
It’s a risky maneuver to shape a movie around the narrow focus of the mental toll drone pilots face; and the psychological hell of war has been a popular war movie theme of late. But Niccol excels with his unexplored new territory that looks at the ramifications of a real-life video game war where the separation from the blood of the enemy is a concept that we haven’t even begun to consider. The blurred rules of war have never been more fuzzy.
MPAA Rating: R for violent content including a rape, language, and some sexuality
Runtime: 102 mins
Director: Andrew Niccol
Writer: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz
Genre: Military | War | Action
Tagline: Good Kill
Memorable Movie Quote: "Why do we wear flight suits, sir?"
Distributor: IFC Films
Release Date: May 15 (limited)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: In the shadowy world of drone warfare, combat unfolds like a video gameonly with real lives at stake. After six tours of duty, Air Force pilot Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) now fights the Taliban from an air-conditioned bunker in the Nevada desert. But as he yearns to get back in the cockpit of a real plane and becomes increasingly troubled by the collateral damage he causes each time he pushes a button, Egans nervesand his relationship with his wife (Mad Men's January Jones)begin to unravel. Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War) directs this riveting insiders view of 21st-century warfare, in which operatives fight unseen enemies from half a world away.
No details available.