Trust me, those aren’t ants you’re shooting at.
Former Air Force pilot Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) now operates flying drones that literally spy on enemies and, when needed, can drop missiles on whoever the pilot deems as necessary, all from the comfortable confines of some place far from the actual battlefield. While Egan gets a chance to go back home to his wife (January Jones), kids, and lovely little suburban home in Nevada, he still feels the pain from being ordered to kill so many faceless, almost random people for reasons he doesn’t understand. And in a way to numb his pain, his drinking only increases on and on. With a new soldier working in his unit (Zoe Kravitz), Egan now has to wonder whether or not he wants to keep at it with the job he has. While it’s safe and cozy for all those involved, he still doesn’t like to be safe and tucked-away when he’s supposed to be in an actual plane, or on the battlefield, actually fighting the good fight. Eventually though, all of this anger and confusion begins to not only take a toll on his marriage, but his allegiance to the United States Army.
Drone warfare has been highly controversial since the early days of its inception. While some people think it’s an easy and much safer way to keep our troops alive and well, some people also feel that it’s a cowardly way of fighting a war and just leads to more and more people, sometimes innocent, sometimes not, being killed for reasons that aren’t fully realized. Because honestly, how could you ever know if that little person you see walking around on a screen be a terrorist, or at least affiliated with some sort of terrorist organization? You wouldn’t unless you were told they were by some higher-ups, and even then, do they really know for sure?
Honestly, not really and that’s the idea that writer, director, and hell, even producer Andrew Niccol taps into.
It’s interesting to see someone like Niccol, a film maker who is most known for sci-fi explorations like Gattaca, In Time, and the Host, tap into something that is as low-key and subdued as this. While he is still dealing with technology, the movie is more about one person’s own struggle with getting along with the times and realizing that, no matter how hard he may try to have it be otherwise, this is his current job and if he wants to keep on protecting his country, then he’ll have to stick with it. So, in a way, it’s like most of Niccol’s other movies, but the fact that it takes place in the actual United States of America in 2010, to be exact, and is very passionate about its message, makes it feel like something a tad bit different.
And with that being said, Niccol actually does a fine job here with Good Kill. While his writing of actual conversations between people may need some help, the ideas and themes that he presents here are still effective and disturbing in a way that was done in another war flick that caused much more stir than this, American Sniper. While it’s definitely not fair to compare Chris Kyle’s real-life actions to a Thomas Egan’s fictional ones, but the messages that both movies seem to get across through their “heroes”, seem quite similar; while they are committing what some may seem as “heroic acts”, they themselves don’t see it as such.
Because of that, they are, simply put, screwed up in the head.
Whereas with Kyle, he could hardly function in day-to-day activities, so much so that even a fellow soldier thanking him for saving his own life, doesn’t even register with him, Egan has a more negative problem. Kyle may have been mentally messed-up, but he still passed it off as nothing and continued on throughout his day – with Egan, he drinks, smokes, listens to hard rock music, and doesn’t know how to even talk to anyone he surrounds himself with, whether it be his wife, kids, or neighbors that just want to have a simple chat. And through Egan, Niccol shows that even though the soldier’s who are designated to handling drones, still don’t get off too easy, because they have no clue who it is that they are dropping missiles on, other than from what they’re told.
And this is where the movie gets a bit messy, because Niccol keeps his objectivity at bay for as long as he can, he starts to lose it a little bit and point the finger a tad too much. For instance, the drone sequences themselves are tense and compelling, but at the same time, whenever the government figures step into them, also feel incredibly preachy. Egan is told to kill dozens and dozens of people that he doesn’t know, or never will know, and because the voice telling them to do so is Peter Coyote, already, it feels like Niccol’s making a movie where the government are the big and bad guys.
Surely this taps into some of what Niccol has made a point in his past movies, but here, it feels manipulative. It’s almost as if having Egan clearly screwed up from everything that he has to do while driving a drone wasn’t enough, Niccol had to make some villains out of the situation. Even Bruce Greenwood’s Colonel character starts out as someone who understands what it is that he has to do and that’s only to take orders, but eventually, turns into this Army “who-rah” stereotype that seems like it would be better placed in a Michael Bay movie, rather than something as thoughtful as this.
But even so, Greenwood’s fantastic in the role and shows some even darker, more messed-up shadings to that character, than Egan even shows. And for that matter, Ethan Hawke is pretty solid in that role, too, because he never goes over-the-top with the role, even though the script clearly seems to be begging for it. Rather than yelling, screaming and punching things to show his frustration with the job that he has to do, Hawke simply downplays Egan’s problems and struggles, and therefore, is all the more effective.
The only who doesn’t seem to be taking a page out of Hawke’s book is January Jones as Egan’s wife. While Jones tries with this character, far too often does she come off as naggy and annoying. It’s easy to understand that she’d be upset with the fact that Egan’s away from home a lot, sometimes because he’s partaking in all-nighter drink binges, it’s also another for her to be complaining and whining about who it is that makes it easy for you to live, where you live. That said, Jones tries and seems like she’s at least trying to fill this thinly-written character with some Betty flavor.
Way too soon. I know.
Consensus: With a thoughtful approach from Niccol, Good Kill brings up some interesting ideas about drone warfare, but also seems lazy in actually doing anything else with those ideas other than just presenting them and leaving it at that.
7 / 10