Two weeks ago, when I released my review for Eye In The Sky, you may remember a promise of a companion review of Good Kill to go alongside it, in keeping with the theme of drone warfare in contemporary conflicts. Unfortunately, Bastille Day snuck up on me and decided to bore me to tears, so I delayed the review of this far superior film. So here, as promised and one week behind schedule, is my review for Good Kill:
Veteran fighter pilot Maj. Tommy Egan (Ethan Hawke) is tasked with piloting Reaper drones over Afghanistan. He does this, however, from the comfort of an air-conditioned container on an Air Force base in Nevada, within driving distance of the Las Vegas strip. Yet in spite of his comfortable lifestyle, we see Tommy clearly struggle with the morality of his work and the impact this has on his family life. As the film progresses, and his missions leave the jurisdiction of the Air Force for that of the CIA, the lines become blurred. When the missions leave Afghanistan in favour of Yemen or Somalia, and civilian casualties are no longer considered an issue by their handlers, Tommy and his co-pilot Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) begin to question their roles in the War On Terror.
I would compare the acting of Ethan Hawke in this to that of Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, in that whilst being very understated it carries considerable weight. The silent and almost monotonous Maj. Egan is a man suffering in silence and for whom the lines between the battlefront and homefront are becoming blurred. The sign on the control room reads ‘You are now leaving the United States’, and this keeps with the feel of the film very nicely. Reality is a somewhat hazy affair here, with the term ‘battlefields and blackjack’ used frequently to hammer home the almost surreal nature of the characters’ work. The cinematography is very absorbing, with extensive use of bird’s eye angles which gives the impression the audience themselves are piloting a drone. Even the numerous explosions are muted, giving a very disconnected feel to the action.
Despite this disconnectivity, the film still maintains its grounding in the horrors of war. Egan’s co-pilot provides the constant moral voice throughout, challenging their orders to destroy a rescue party from a previous drone strike, who’s only armament is the shovels they are using to clear the rubble. Similarly, Egan’s commanding officer, powerfully played by Bruce Greenwood, provides a harsh lesson through a speech to the new pilots, emphasizing that despite the methods they use “This ain’t f****ing Playstation”, and that no matter how comfortable their lives are, they are still killing people, and that this is the future of warfare:
“Drones aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’re going everywhere.”
Good Kill is a rare example of a war film that doesn’t actually go to war, and as such is all the richer for it. The separation between the Egan and his work hammers at his family life just as hard as PTSD might to Chris Kyle or Will James (protagonist of The Hurt Locker). With an intelligent script, fine acting and excellent camera work, I can thoroughly recommend Good Kill for war movie enthusiasts who are searching for a more refined experience, as well as viewers who enjoy good drama in whatever form it comes. It’s available on Netflix and has been out on DVD for a while, and is 100% worth your time. My only regret is that this film was released in cinemas too late for me to work it into my dissertation.