Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour 42 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, Jake Abel, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz
Written & Directed by Andrew Niccol (The Host, In Time, Lord of War, S1m0ne, Gattaca)
As explained to us in Good Kill (opening today) by U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood), make no bones about it: The "UAV" (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) - better-known as drones - and their operators, kill people. You can call it a "surgical strike" or a "tactical raid" but the result is the same: Real people are going to be killed. The movie's purpose can be explained in many ways as well, but make no mistake: It aims to inform you of the dangers of modern warfare, at a time when the military is manufacturing more drones than it is manned jets.
Or again as Lt. Colonel Jack Johns puts it, drones aren't just anywhere. They're everywhere.
Watching Good Kill, these and other moral messages are pointed directly at the audience and launched endlessly. The story, the acting, the movie's plot, seem to be geared more as a TV movie, other than the extreme use of the F-word and one scene involving rape that didn't really need to be shown. Really, all of these elements are a delivery method for the questions that the filmmaker is seemingly looking to raise. An examination of how technology has desensitized our soldiers and has made war a first-person shooter. It comes off as unapologetically anti-war, but also really seems intent on educating its viewers on how the government is using drone technology as part of their every-day war on terrorism.
Ethan Hawke plays Major Thomas Egan, a pilot who has had six tours of duty. Him and his battalion now spend their days inside metal boxes, operating drones in far away (mostly Middle-Eastern) countries, as if they were playing a video game. He lives nearby in a manufactured military community in the Las Vegas desert, with his wife (January Jones) and children, a neighborhood that is made to look like a "normal" living area, occupied by other military men and women. Egan struggles with the disconnect of killing from such a remote location, and his weariness only grows as the film introduces more and more morally complex situations.
Hawke is a fine actor, but it seems that only director Richard Linklater is capable of fully tapping into his potential. Here, he isn't given many dimensions to work with, nor is January Jones as his trophy wife. He sneaks drinks of alcohol in the bathroom and is dealing with trauma that is quite typical of soldiers that we see portrayed in several movies dealing with the subject. It's a very real thing, but here, again, it is reduced to Lifetime Movie-level drama.
Good Kill isn't all bad - it does shed light on the impact drones have had not only on the front lines of foreign warfare, but in how the United States mentally approaches the application of such deadly machines. But not unlike the pilots and their UAVs, there is a disconnect between the audience and those we see on screen, who are vehicles of delivery themselves...not carrying bombs, but instead hauling with them the thinly-veiled directives of the filmmakers.
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