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Good Kill – Review


Release Date: 15 May 2015 [USA]
Director: Andrew Niccol
Writer: Andrew Niccol
Cast: January Jones - Zoë Kravitz - Bruce Greenwood - Ethan Hawke - Jake Abel



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Posted April 30, 2015 by

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Good Kill Review:

Good Kill’ would be the catch phrase to say, when you are a drone operator, after you’ve successfully strike your appointed target. In an other context, you’d say “Bull’s Eye !” and brag about it with your friends. But in the present situation, you’re not playing darts, you’re launching laser-guided missiles onto terrorists in Afghanistan, or at least supposed-to-be terrorists.

Andrew Niccol is maybe more famous for his work as a screen writer (‘The Truman Show’, ‘The Terminal’) than for his directing career (‘S1m0ne’, ‘Time In’, and of course ‘Gattaca’), but truly made a point with his talent in 2005 with ‘Lord of War’, (which stands to me as the last worthy performance from Nicolas Cage), where we witness the psychological as well as the spiritual path of a weapons dealer, working all around the world, usually by selling his weapons to both sides of a conflict. I would be tempted to see a bridge between ‘Lord of War’ and ‘Good Kill’, in the way that Niccol obviously didn’t make these films for the soil purpose of entertainment (as could have been ‘Time In’, for instance), but also to make a stand on a difficult subject. However, I will explain why this bridge is not quite there…

We are in 2010. Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke, from ‘Dead Poets Society’, the ‘Before’ Trilogy, ‘Staten Island’) was a F-16 pilot involved in six tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, but was somehow transferred to a new unit of drone pilots, based in Las Vegas, given that Air Force would rather spend its money on efficient robots instead of take a risk in sending more people over and beyond enemy lines. The point is thoroughly explained by Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood, from ‘Super 8’, ‘Déjà Vu’, ‘Capote’), the superior of the team where Thomas is involved. We also find here Captain Ed Christie (Dylan Kenin, from ‘Brothers (2009)’, ‘Transcendence’, ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’), M.I.C. Joseph Zimmer (Jake Abel, from ‘Lovely Bones’, ‘I Am Number Four’, ‘The Host’) and the last recruit, Corporal Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz, from ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’, ‘Twelve’, ‘After Earth’). All this merry team will soon abort carrying the missions from Air Force, which targeted specific people with a minimum of casualties, to answer only to some guys to be referred to as “Langley”… because they obviously work for the CIA.

One of the main reason I spoke earlier of a bridge that might appear between ‘Good Kill’ and ‘Lords of War’ is that it’s actually very easy, in both stories, to understand that what we see is real, or realistic at the very least. It’s even more real when you see both main characters struggling with their social life : in the case of Thomas Egan, we could make an analogy of his sex life with his wife (January Jones, from ‘X-Men : First Class’, ‘Love Actually’, ‘Anger Management’) by mentioning the prude cross hanged over their bed… We do know that weapons dealers, authorized or not, are galore, and we do know they have blood money on their hands. We also know that the drone topic is frequently talked upon, and criticized by the media, but that might be the thing that prevents me to complete the bridge : even though we know there’s weapons dealer, we never hear about them, and we have no idea of the damages they are accountable for, as opposed to the drones, about which we do hear about, and about which we have a pretty damn good idea of the damages they are accountable for… And this might just be the little thing that bothered me during the movie… It’s too “real”… and insanely too easy. You could watch “Lords of War” just for the fun of it, and have no remorse because you can pretend it’s sort of fake, or exaggerated. But you can’t watch” Good Kill” and being ok with it, and pretend that the fact that plenty of non-combatant people are stroked down every single day for almost a decade, on the impulse given by soldiers located ten thousand miles away from them.

I was not entirely conquered by Ethan Hawke’s performance, being not sure if Thomas’ state of mind was due to the moral dilemma or the simple fact that he was sacked out of his plane, or both, or if he is just concerned about the fact that he is just “a coward”, as he says so eloquently. The rest of the cast does the job, even though we could think at some point that the breaking point between one part of the team and the other might be too much of a cliché, the “good guys with a heart” on one side, “the jarheads with no feelings” on the other. I guess that it serves more a purpose of balancing the intention, instead of falling into the obviously easy point, and say “drones are bad, m’kay ?”. I wouldn’t know if drones are a bad thing. And maybe the intention of this movie was mainly to make us remember that it’s not the drones that are responsible for the casualties they gender, it’s the guy that gives the order.

Since the topic is anchored in a reality that we’d rather ignore (wagging a war against an enemy that can’t directly retaliate), and due to some clumsiness in the manichaean choices made, it’s quite obvious to me that ‘Good Kill’ won’t receive the same infatuation ‘Lords of War’ received in its time. Yet, I would recommend that you see it, for the nicety of what is shown “on the ground”, and to help understand what might be at stake in the upcoming warfare. My guess is, it’s not pretty, although war has never been pretty, actually.


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Theo Tessa
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