By Jake Howell

The Torontonian reviews Good Kill

Based on actual events and unapologetically anti-war, Andrew Nicoll’s Good Kill is an effective if slightly overlong look at the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as military lightning strikes and the psychological toll the violence takes on the men and women who “pilot” them, especially as the drone program evolves into something they never signed up for.

Continuing with what will likely be the biggest year of his career, Ethan Hawke plays Major Tommy Egan, a booze-chugging veteran who has seen multiple tours of combat but finds himself in the middle of his third drone tour. That means he spends a lot of time in an air-conditioned trailer on a military base in Nevada, Starbucks in hand, piloting a drone that is 7000 miles away, which is about as detached from the dangers of war as you can concievably get. But the real world impacts of his missiles are rending flesh and blood, and the film opens with Egan’s eye flitting back and forth as he looks for his latest target. His partner lasers the impact zone, Egan fires the trigger, and moments later—halfway across the world in a remote location in Afghanistan—hellfire rains down upon a supposed terrorist.

Egan, like godly Zeus, throws bolts from the blue. “Good kill,” he confirms, scanning the desolation.

Desensitized from the violence yet nonetheless damaged by his job, Egan’s life at home is turbulent, and his loyal wife (January Jones) feels like her husband is more vacant than he was when he was actually overseas. “Does he ever get mad?” a friend asks, watching Egan barbecue mutely after coming home from wiping six Taliban from the face of the earth. “When he gets mad, he only gets more quiet,” his wife says. The film unravels this now-broken marriage to middling effect.

Written by Nicoll and riddled with all the appropriate military jargon like “rules of engagement” and “painting the target,” his script compliments the disconnected horrors of these drone strikes by underlining the ironies of this cyclical, cynical conflict. Lines like “I’ve been a pilot before Pontius” keep us engaged throughout the film’s terrible everyday scenarios, like when Egan and company witness a local Afghan—not related to the Taliban or listed in any of their intel—repeatedly rape and beat a woman. Though they’re able to eliminate the rapist in a split second with a missile right between his eyes, Egan’s commander (played by Bruce Greenwood) says: “he’s a bad guy, but he’s not our bad guy.”

The film takes an uncomfortable turn when the CIA takes control of the drone program, requesting target strikes that continue to feel more and more unjust. “Sir, was that a war crime?” Egan’s morally-sober assistant Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) whimpers at one point. A monotonous voice in the form of a speakerphone—referred to only as Langley—requests orders that leave the drone pilots questioning everything about their job. Later, Egan refrains from uttering “good kill” after his strikes entirely.

This is the kind of movie you’d only watch once, given its heavyhandedness. That said, when Bruce Greenwood states that drone piloting “isn’t goddamn Playstation” to a horde of new recruits, you know the film is touching on some murky, real-world gray areas about the future of warfare. Except the future of warfare is actually the here-and-now of warfare, and Nicoll’s film assists in a layman understanding of the program (along with Wikileaks footage you may have seen). Egan’s failing marriage may be a lackluster B-story, but Ethan Hawke’s characteristically strong performance as a emotionally distanced drone pilot is worth your attention.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon