Good Kill (2014)

Good Kill (2014)
  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Andrew Niccol
  • Cast: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz


A Las Vegas-based fighter pilot turned drone pilot fights the Taliban by remote control for 12 hours a day, then goes home to the suburbs and feuds with his wife and kids for the other 12. But the pilot is starting to question the mission. Is he creating more terrorists than he’s killing? Is he fighting a war without end.

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  • “I’m a pilot, and I’m not flying,” Major Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) laments to his wife Molly (January Jones) in one of the few times he opens up to her. Such is modern warfare, where pilots who once took to the skies are now sat in front of monitors in air-conditioned cubicles. Having done six tours of duty, Egan cannot quite reconcile himself to remotely piloting the weaponised unmanned aerial vehicle – a.k.a. drones – that now outnumber manned aircrafts.

    Tom is itching to get back in a plane, a need his wife can’t understand. A neighbour and fellow pilot reminds him that he’s living the dream – he can blow away six Taliban at work and get home in time to fire up the grill. Even his commanding officer Lt. Colonel Johns (Bruce Greenwood), who scoffs that war is not a first-person shooter game where the new generation of fighters are recruited for their video-gaming skills, admits they can’t complain. Not when there are still soldiers bleeding on the battlefield.

    Yet Tom feels like a coward sitting inside the box that passes for their theater of operation and staring at screens that show pixelated figures caught in the crosshairs. A push of a button can result in a weapons warehouse or a vehicle with Taliban solders disappearing in an explosion of smoke and rubble. “Splash,” one of Tom’s team might say. “Good kill,” Johns may remark at the cleanliness of the hit. Is this what passes for combat nowadays? Tom wonders why they even bother wearing uniforms.

    Tom’s slowly fraying psyche is exacerbated by a shift in base protocol, which now has the team carrying out orders coming straight from CIA headquarters in Langley. Instead of strikes being carried out on a confirmed suspicion of guilt, they will now be executed based on a pattern of behaviour. Langley’s (voiced with emotionless chill by Peter Coyote) rationale is called into question by Tom’s co-pilot Suarez (an effective Zoë Kravitz), who is increasingly disgusted at having to obey morally suspect orders. “Was that a war crime, sir?” she remarks after they deploy a missile on rescuers trying to dig out survivors from the rubble of an earlier blast.

    Writer-director Andrew Niccol puts forth an intelligent and immaculately measured film that blurs the lines between those who fight and those who defend. There is one odd stumble concerning one female Afghan civilian – the subplot is too pat and spoonfed – but otherwise Niccol leaves it to the viewers to draw their own conclusions and interpretations.

    Certainly Tom’s inevitable emotional collapse is a compelling watch. His detachment from his wife is an understandable one, but listen to his reasoning for wanting to be back in combat. He wants to go back to the way things were, he explains; it may have been scarier, but they made each other laugh, they made love everywhere, they were together when they were together. In the here and now, in the safety of that box, he cannot function either as a husband or father. Does he need to be in the conflict zone to appreciate his home life? Does he need it to rationalise his killings as part of his duty? Does he simply want to feel that something is real? The artificial lawn in his backyard and the virtual wonderland that is Las Vegas only heighten his discombobulation.

    Hawke delivers an incredibly internalised and minutely modulated performance that easily ranks as one of his best. The perils of playing God at work, the nagging impotence at home – they can only be compartmentalised for so long and Hawke charts Tom’s coming undone with almost surgical precision.

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