Directed by Andrew Niccol. Produced by Mark Amin, Nicolas Chartier, and Zev Foreman. Written by Andrew Niccol. Release date: May 15, 2015.
In a parallel universe, Good Kill is what eventually became of that Top Gun sequel we thought we were getting. It’s a logical progression, really, and in some ways feels exactly what a Top Gun for 2015 would feel like. Instead of focusing on a hotshot pilot, it instead shows us the horrors of war through drone warfare – with the hotshot pilot having been grounded and forced to push the buttons that kill dozens of people several thousands of miles away.
The pilot isn’t being played by Tom Cruise, though. Instead, Ethan Hawke takes the lead, here playing a man named Thomas Egan. Plane pilots are a thing of the past, so he’s been forced into flying drones, something he hates doing. The main benefit, though, is that he can go home every day to his suburban house, his lovely wife (January Jones), and his kids. Good Kill follows Egan’s day-to-day life, which allows the viewer to see the behind-the-scenes job of piloting drones – as well as the questionable morals with which the operation is run.
Yes, Good Kill is a movie with something on its mind. It has ideas about drone warfare. It shows us how the CIA interfered in the Air Force’s operation, which saw Egan forced to commit what other characters refer to as “war crimes.” Good Kill doesn’t exactly have a lot of good things to say about the way the government has run its drone division. We also witness the job take its toll on the characters, much the same way that we saw war impact the mental health of the protagonist in American Sniper. It doesn’t matter whether you’re three feet from someone or three thousand miles away; killing another human being is hard on a normal person’s state of mind.
So, the film is here to make a point, to criticize indiscriminate killing via drones and to make us aware of the impact war has on the soldiers participating in it. It probably would have had more impact had we not seen similar themes in American Sniper a few months ago, but at least the drone issue – which is the main focus for most of the running time – is fresh. However, a movie that is this single-mindedly political comes with its own share of problems.
Good Kill is a decent movie that will make you think about the way that the military uses drones, and the way that killing people impacts the mental health of soldiers.
The first and foremost problem being that the ideas it wants to preach to us wind up being much more of a focus than keeping us entertained. Seeing drones in action – mostly on videogame-esque screens, something the film actually addresses – is fun for a while, but when it feels like every second scene sees us watching a screen, waiting for an explosion, it gets dull really quick. The targets are all just random individuals, and there’s never any tension regarding whether or not the mission will be a success. About the only time the film gets interesting is when its characters start to crack under the mental grind that comes from performing these morally questionable missions.
That, however, is the only thing to the characters, unfortunately. Their personalities are almost solely defined by whether or not they think the drone missions are positive. It’s a shame, too, because Ethan Hawke is actually quite strong in the lead role. If his character was written with more depth, the movie would be so much better. He’d feel like a person, not a conduit through which Good Kill can make a point about soldiers. He’s a stand-in for all soldiers; he never feels to us like “Thomas Egan.”
Good Kill isn’t ever boring, though. It remains interesting enough to be worthwhile because it has something on its mind – whether you agree with what it has to say or you don’t. It’s been written and directed by Andrew Niccol, finally giving us a good movie after floundering for a decade. This is much more Lord of War than In Time or The Host. And that’s what we need from someone as talented as Niccol. He’s someone who can tell a good story that’s filled with ideas, and while Good Kill isn’t one of his top films, it’s at least on the right track.
While not a complete victory, Good Kill is a decent movie that will make you think about the way that the military uses drones, and the way that killing people impacts the mental health of soldiers. Its strengths do not come from its story or its characters. It’s topical, it’s smart, and it’s rarely dull, although it’s also heavy-handed and often single-minded.
Bottom Line: Good Kill is a mixed bag, but overall I’d consider it a moderate success.
Recommendation: If you needed American Sniper to have more drones and less character, Good Kill is your movie.[rating=3]