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Good Kill Scores a Bull’s-Eye

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 actual combat.

 

Good Kill-Ethan Hawke

Photo by Lorey Sebastian (Courtesy of Clear Skies Nevada LLC / IFC Films)

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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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