VOD film review: Good Kill
Ivan Radford | On 06, Aug 2015
Director: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood
Watch Good Kill online in the UK: iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“Make no mistake,” Lieutenant Colonel Johns (Greenwood) tells his new recruits. “This ain’t PlayStation.” It sounds like an obvious statement, but it’s one that’s becoming more and more necessary: in the age of technological warfare, drones are increasingly used to attack from afar. Soldiers are recruited, in part, from arcade games; young joystick jockeys who are used to squeezing a trigger. Good Kill, Andrew Niccol’s provocative new drama, hones right in on the issue.
Reuniting with Gattaca’s Ethan Hawke, the director immediately introduces us to Thomas (Hawke), a pilot doing what he’s done for years: flying into enemy territory. The only difference? Now he does it from Creech Air Force Base, Clark County. “You are now leaving the USA,” says a sign on the door of his hut, after he hangs up his control pad at the end of a shift. Niccol pans out to reveal his is just one in a long line of drone stations: pockets of politically neutral ground in the middle of Nevada.
“Drones are not going anywhere,” assures Greenwood’s hardened officer, who spends his days peering over Thomas’ shoulder and supervising his work (after this, Elephant Song and Star Trek Into Darkness, Greenwood is on a supporting role roll). And so we see Thomas ordered, over and over, to blow up jeeps in motion or destroy homes – operations that are carried out with mathematical precision and a cool head. Presented on a computer monitor with minimal dressing, the missions make for a disconcertingly gripping watch. Even with the operator’s laser-targeted aim, we soon learn, there’s no accounting for the people on the ground: children wander in and out of the frame with the unpredictable timing of real life, leaving you, like Thomas, counting the seconds, breath held, until each explosion.
Niccol cuts these sequences with close-ups of Hawke’s face, confronting the moral dilemma at the heart of drone combat head-on. Hawke is incredible, delivering the kind of understated performance that earned Bradley Cooper an Oscar nomination for American Sniper last year. If Cooper’s trooper was presented objectively by Clint Eastwood, though, Niccol is far less impartial. It’s no secret that Thomas is unhappy with his work: if anything, he’d rather be there in person to take out the Taliban, an uneasiness that festers as the CIA step in and start picking his targets.
Throughout, Hawke is almost mute. While he becomes more uncertain about his work, the only words we hear him say with any conviction are “good kill” – the term for a missile successfully finding its mark. January Jones’ wife brings convincing frustration to his home life, as she struggles to connect with her distant husband. Zoe Kravitz is also strong as his more visibly conflicted co-pilot.
Despite the script’s fondness of Serious Conversations, the cast are all best when saying nothing – a fact that chimes with Niccol’s carefully crafted sense of remote alienation. Away from the console, the director shoots the rows of US army houses from overhead with an unsettling drone’s eye view, something that places us in the unsettling position of the voyeur – from the air, there is no difference between buildings in America and those overseas. Harrowing scenes involving a soldier abusing a woman, meanwhile, are watched by the US forces during their surveillance sessions – an unsubtle piece of writing, but a lack of privacy that contrasts effectively with our inability to see the disembodied government agents calling the shots; during a time of computerised conflict, only the people in power can see everything. Good Kill zooms in on the uncomfortable truth of modern war with unflinching intensity.