Good Kill may not
be a summer blockbuster, but it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. Writer-director
Andrew Niccol manages to fold his agenda into a compelling and believable story
about the perils of high-tech warfare. Ethan Hawke is perfectly cast as a
fighter pilot who, having completed several tours of duty in Afghanistan, now
finds himself reporting to an air-conditioned bunker outside of Las Vegas where
he conducts bombing raids using a drone. The film is set in 2010 and declares
that it is “based on a true story.”
The idea that he is killing people half a world away, using
cutting-edge technology and surveillance cameras, has a strange effect on him.
He misses the excitement of piloting a plane and the exhilaration of
functioning in the midst of danger. He may be achieving the same goals—with, it
might be argued, even greater efficiency—but the fact that he’s hidden from his
victims, able to spy on their every move with sophisticated cameras, makes him
feel like a coward.
He’s not alone in his discomfort. Even his commanding
officer (well played by Bruce Greenwood) has mixed feelings about this brand of
warfare, executed by young recruits with gaming skills who’ve never experienced
Then there is the toll that this daily exercise takes on
Hawke’s home life in the suburbs of Vegas. He has a loving wife (January Jones)
and two young children. One of his cohorts says it must be great to have all
that and not be gone for months on end, but Hawke isn’t so sure.
Good Kill is an
intimate, tightly-focused film, with good supporting roles for Greenwood, Zoë
Kravitz, Jake Abel and, as the voice of the C.I.A. in Langley, Virginia, Peter
Coyote. It is of a piece with Niccol’s earlier films like Gattaca, Lord of War, and In
Time, yet its modest scale seems to have worked to its benefit. Its reach
doesn’t exceed its grasp, and its potent message is right on target.