Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: Good Kill

Image courtesy of IFC Films.
Andrew Niccol's "Good Kill" is a well-made and mostly effective political/war drama that focuses on the ever-controversial use of drones as weapons of warfare. The picture's questioning of the ethics involved in using such weapons hits most of its targets, even when the script falls short in a few other departments, namely in fleshing out its characters.

In the film, Ethan Hawke plays Major Thomas Egan, a former pilot who did six tours in the Middle East and has now been relegated to working in a booth in Nevada, spending all day in front of a screen and using drones to kill targets in places such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Egan's character is a bit of an enigma. He appears pensive and moody, but never outwardly questions the orders of his superiors, including his sympathetic commander (Bruce Greenwood). And yet, Hawke, who always brings a certain something to a movie, manages to give us a pretty good sense of the guy anyway.

The same could be said for his long suffering wife, Molly (January Jones), who grows wary of her husband constantly being away, including the times when he is actually with her. As a character, Molly exhibits some of the cliches of the soldier's wife, who can only put up with so much of her absent husband. But Jones, who proved in last week's second to last "Mad Men" episode how much she can do with the right material, still makes her character sympathetic and lived-in.

"Good Kill" plays like a thriller, although the stakes, as Hawke and his cohorts point out, are only truly playing out on the other side of the globe. He tells a coworker, "The greatest danger I face every day is driving home on the highway."

Since this is a political thriller, the film presents some of the pros and cons - although, certainly more of the cons - of drone warfare, a tactic that has been employed increasingly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. There are several scenes in the film in which Hawke must deal with the collateral damage involved in using the drones, whereas in two other sequences - one in which he rightfully takes out a man whom he witnesses perpetrating horrors against a young mother and another in which he watches over a group of soldiers, so that they can get a good night's sleep - Egan uses drones for higher purposes.

Niccol, who broke onto the scene in the late 1990s after penning the script for "The Truman Show," has an interesting filmography that has included some hits - "Gattaca" and "Lord of War" - and a miss or two, including the woeful adaptation of "The Host."

"Good Kill" isn't quite one of his best films, but it presents him with an opportunity to break out of the sci-fi thriller genre in which he often dabbles. "Lord of War," which also dealt with weapons, is the closest point of reference in his oeuvre. It's a solid, low budget thriller that, for the most part, works and poses some grave questions about the ways we do war.

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