Starring Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kravitz, Jake Abel, January Jones
After his Truman Show script and the direction he took with Gattaca, writer/director Andrew Niccol was poised to be one of the biggest innovators in modern film. Everything after Gattaca was a disappointment from Simone, Lord of War and more recently The Host. Good Kill reteams the New Zealand filmmaker with Ethan Hawke and with Good Kill he reminds us of that creative innovation once again. At its most basic level, Good Kill is about an air force major having lost his wings when technology had removed the necessity for manned aircrafts. However, beneath the script, digging deep, asking the viewer difficult questions about drone warfare. Niccol has always loved telling stories about the “not too distant future”, which we now call present day.
Major Tom Egan (Hawke) has become removed from his wife (Jones) and kids, his self-loathing extreme and dangerous.. He has been grounded from six tours of air combat command and on his third tour of the new front on international terrorism, remotely piloted aircrafts. Egan drives from the Red Rock outskirts, through the Vegas strip, out to the military base each day to sit in an air-conditioned unit where he takes command of a drone half way around the world. “This isn’t PlayStation, we are killing people,” Commander Jack Johns (Greenwood) reminds his unit. When the CIA starts using this RPA unit to shoot down targets that often involve innocent bystanders Egan and his team begin to question the ethics of their duty.
Niccol has created an effective film that is both entertaining and timely.
Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) gives another immersed performance, continuing to prove the more movies he makes the better actor he becomes. He is never quite our “good guy”, riddled with silence around his wife, a disconnect with the idea of family, when his wife finally demands to know, “What is it that you miss so bad? What is it that you need”, the audience perks up in suspense for the answer as we have been trying to figure this guy out the entire film. From Greenwood (Star Trek) to Kravitz (X-Men), the character development gives the audience a range of perspectives to choose from regarding how to feel on the subject matter. The suspense is all in the character development, in many ways watching our lead character crumble mentally.
Outside the mobile unit command center we hear music on Egan’s radio, tunes in the backyard BBQ or even underlying music over the visuals. Yet inside the control center its dead silence as we watch a few people take the lives of many into their hands. “I always feel like they can see us”, Vera (Kravitz) says. Conservative, pro-war might have an issue with half of the message in Good Kill, but I think Niccol balances all sides of the debate he himself raises by making this film in the first place. It’s nearly impossible to see Good Kill as simply a thriller, it’s very strongly asking the viewer to weigh in on what will only become a nosier debate as time moves on. Through a very simple delivery, Niccol has created an effective film that is both entertaining and timely.
Niccol’s best film since Gattaca, Hawke and the rest of the cast deliver on multiple levels.