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Good Kill

D: Andrew Niccol / 102m

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, Zoë Kravitz, January Jones, Jake Abel, Dylan Kenin, Peter Coyote

With pilots no longer needed to fly as many missions thanks to the US Air Force’s reliance on drones, Major Thomas Egan (Hawke) is stuck in a dead-end post as a drone pilot at a base outside Las Vegas. Under the command of Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Greenwood), Egan is disillusioned with his new role and wants to get back to real flying. His frustration begins to affect his marriage to Molly (Jones), and he doesn’t socialise much with his colleagues, newbie Airman Vera Suarez (Kravitz), M.I.C. Joseph Zimmer (Abel), and Capt. Ed Christie (Kenin). Targeting confirmed terrorists and Taliban members, Egan kills by remote control, and feels equally as remote from what’s happening thousands of miles away.

His role takes an unexpected turn when his unit is asked to work with the CIA in targeting and killing suspected terrorists and/or sympathisers, or anyone regarded as a potential threat to US security – but in Yemen, a country that the US isn’t at war with. When several drone strikes result in a “double tap” – the subsequent targeting and killing of anyone who goes to the aid of those injured in the first bombing – Egan, appalled by this development, begins to question the Air Force’s role in working with the CIA, and the ethics involved. Unable to influence the CIA’s thinking he attempts to thwart their plans by sabotaging the drone strikes, but when he’s found out it puts his whole future, including his marriage, in jeopardy.

Good Kill - scene

Set in 2010, at the height of the US’s use of drones in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, Good Kill is another thought-provoking drama from writer/director Niccol. An astute observation of the ways in which technology is making modern warfare a matter of distance rather than engagement, the movie paints a chilling portrait of the callous approach to collateral damage that appears endemic in US thinking. By making Egan an unwitting – and unwilling – victim of abhorrent government policies, the movie concisely and intelligently shows the appalling effect such a responsibility can have on an individual.

Hawke gives one of his best performances outside of the Before… movies, his haunted features capturing the conflict going on inside him with studied precision. As he wrestles with his need to follow orders and his growing sense of outrage and shame at what he’s required to do, Hawke’s portrayal of Egan grounds the movie even further than the verisimilitude achieved by Niccol’s artful script. With great supporting turns from Greenwood and Kravitz, Good Kill tells its story with a great deal of subtlety and understanding of the issues involved. The Las Vegas backdrop serves to heighten the insanity of bombing people based on limited intelligence information, and the movie is immaculately shot by Amir Mokri. Niccol makes only two missteps: the character of Molly Egan, a more casually written role that Jones has trouble fleshing out, and the ending, which is too pat, but these aspects aside, the movie is a solid, engrossing thriller that shines a revealing light on yet another part of US foreign policy that ignores due process.

Rating: 8/10 – yet another contemporary, relevant drama from Niccol, Good Kill shows an unflinching, and uncompromising, approach to the material; with Hawke on top form, the human element is given a better focus than usual, and the movie persuasively challenges the idea that remote killing is less distasteful than killing someone in person.

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