Genre: Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Jake Abel, Bruce Greenwood
As the popularity of multi-platform first-person shooters, such as the infamous Call of Duty franchise, has continued to rise, online gamers have begun to find their own peace of mind by waging war with each other from the comfort of their own homes. There are some soldiers though, who fight real wars, not virtual ones, armed only with a joystick, and it is these men and women that writer/director Andrew Niccol has brought to the frontline of focus with this quietly commanding drama.
Neatly sidestepping the ethical implications of going to war in the first place, Niccol instead turns to address the morals of modern warfare. Drawing his narrative from actual events, which can be further explored in the documentary Drone that’s also currently out on release, the film follows fictitious former pilot turned drone operator Tom (Ethan Hawke). Based at an army base just outside Vegas, Tom now spends his days killing insurgents remotely before returning home to spend the evenings with his wife (January Jones) and daughter (Sachie Capitani). However, when the CIA begins forcing Tom and his team to covertly assassinate possible enemies without sufficient proof, he soon starts to question his mission.
Though there is little by the way of big bangs and action, Good Kill is still a film that makes a lot of noise. There’s much to consider and contemplate here. Our disengagement with what constitutes right and wrong in a warzone is furiously brought to the forefront of our minds as the CIA take control of Tom’s unit. While the Army’s drive to recruit video gamers as drone pilots chillingly suggests we are breeding a new sort of soldier who’s detached from reality. Even the title, which is the response given by a drone pilot following the elimination of a target, morbidly plays on your mind as you begin to mentally dissect it.
None of this however, is as unsettling as the director’s main avenue of inquiry. With flavours of The Hurt Locker, American Sniper and Jarhead all thrown in to the pot, Niccol launches an assault that comprehensively deconstructs the mind of a contemporary combatant.
His script does lack a certain dramatic depth, with the scenes at home between Tom and his wife failing to ever be as moving as was perhaps hoped. But this restraint allows for a more intimate and intelligent investigation that’s held together by Ethan Hawke’s natural and nuanced performance. On the surface Tom is a stoic and silent presence, but we can see from the start that he’s screaming inside. Hawke, who has matured in to one his generations more exciting screen actors, is careful to never exaggerate Tom’s emotional upheaval, preferring instead to let it linger potently in the air.
That Niccol fails to match the momentum afforded by Hawke through to the finish is something of a disappointment, with the ending arguably tying itself together too neatly to leave a lasting impact. But with so many thoughts left swirling around your mind, Good Kill is still a film that strikes with force.