Good Kill is the latest film by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War, In Time) starring Ethan Hawke as Major Thomas Egan, who pilots drones. From the relative comfort of an air-conditioned box outside of Las Vegas, Thomas can execute missions and kill terrorists half a world away in Afghanistan. After being a pilot in fighter jets for six tours in the Middle East, Thomas struggles with the difference between flying jets and drones. But, his natural ability makes him the ideal candidate when his unit is lent out to the CIA to conduct operations that are off the books. As the CIA directed operations begin to push the moral boundaries, Thomas’ drinking becomes more aggressive, putting even more pressure on his strained marriage with Molly (January Jones).
Good Kill raises many questions about the U.S. drone conduct in the ongoing, “War on Terror”. Unfortunately, the feelings and emotions Niccol hopes the audience to experience is conveyed with such little subtlety that the entire film feels overbearing and preachy. The exaggerations of what actions Thomas is asked to commit are so unbelievably cruel and ignorant that it shatters the suspense of disbelief. The film paints the portrait of the American military commanders as evil dictators playing God and killing on a whim with no thought about the collateral damage it causes. I say all of this as a person who is very much against the use of drone strikes solving every problem in the Middle East. Despite the alignment of my opinions and the theme of the film, it is so ham-fisted in pushing its ideas that it becomes off-putting.
Thinking about it, Ethan Hawke has never really disappointed me in a role. No matter if the film is big or small, he always seems to put the utmost effort into portraying his character. Thankfully, Good Kill is no exception. Hawke drives the film forward with an emotional and relatable performance. His crew, played by Zoe Kravitz, Jake Abel, and Dylan Kenin, provide a diverse selection of opinions. Zimmer (Jake Abel) is the typical gung-ho soldier who can’t wait to blow up a schoolbus full of brown people, while Suavez (Zoe Kravitz) struggles to cope with what is asked of her. What drags the film down in this regard is the dialogue that was written for these characters. The interactions between characters feel so awkward and forced, particularly when they unexpectedly hop onto their soap-box to openly critique and speculate on drone policy while on the phone with the CIA. The dialogue consistently becomes unbelievable which kills the serious atmosphere that Good Kill strives to achieve.
I feel that Good Kill had a lot of potential that went tragically unrealized. The cast all perform admirably (especially Hawke), but are limited by the awkward script. The core concept of the film is topical and an issue that the American people should be questioning, but the execution of Good Kill is so heavy handed that it cheapens the overall message. The cinematography of the drone scenes is tense and realistic, but the ever-escalating situations that the characters are placed in become ridiculous in their cruelty. There is something very special deep down in Good Kill, unfortunately the film wasn’t able to bring it out.
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