ON BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW FILMS
RUNNING TIME: 102 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Major Thomas Egan is an experienced Air Force combat pilot, but now he doesn’t fly jets anymore. Instead he’s now a member of a drone crew based near Las Vegas. The two contrary sides of a drone pilot’s life has become his routine; at work hours he controls a drone over Afghanistan, dropping missiles at the Taliban, while after hours he can simply go home to his wife and kid. Despite feeling the need to be inside a jet’s cockpit in warzone airspace, and requesting to be transferred to a jet squadron, his boss asks him to mentor a new recruit pilot, Suarez. Suarez becomes Tommy’s co-pilot, lazing targets while Tommy gets to pull the trigger at the enemies, but Tommy is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with his job, especially when the CIA become their new bosses….
Good Kill is not your typical war film, but then the type of warfare being carried out in it – or should I say the type of warfare that is being carried out by the good old US of A, and, to a smaller extent, the UK [so far only the US, UK, Israel, Pakistan and China have military drones]- would be totally alien to, say, the characters in Top Gun. The use of drones – unnamed aerial vehicles usually carrying missiles- is very controversial, and Andrew Niccol, whose run of strong writing and directing was somewhat halted by the middling In Time, tackles the issues head on his new movie, a movie that only seemed to get a limited release in cinemas [I wanted to see it and it was only on for three or four days late in the evening] and is a good example of the type of film I feel is being drowned out of our screens by, primarily, all these damn superheroes, though even five years ago there was far less variety of film showing in our picture houses then there was before. Take a look at all the films that were released in the 80’s, and you’ll see what I mean.
But I am slightly digressing, so back to Good Kill. Now I should say right away that all the action takes place in an air conditioned bunker where most of our main characters are instructed to pick off various targets viewed through a screen. I must admit, I felt a little disappointed when I realised that all the war footage was going to be seen through a darn screen – this is no American Sniper even if there are many similarities between the two pictures – but these scenes actually become very gripping, uncomfortable and even frightening as well as possibly showing how the majority of wars could be fought in the future. The digital age has had such a phenomenal effect on our world, transforming so much the way we carry out our lives and not always in a positive way [I’m sure it’s partly caused the obesity crisis affecting the UK and the US], so it’s no surprise that war is being significantly altered too, most notably with a seemingly outdated air force being replaced by what is mockingly called by some the ‘chair force’, where a bunch of people do something which isn’t really any different from playing a computer game except that the people they are killing are real. Well, it does make things safer for those doing the killing, so that’s all right then? And the conspiracy nut – well, maybe that’s too strong a word but I do have an interest in these things – in me wonders if the low-key distribution of the film was because it was wished that not many people would see it and know the truth about how we are now waging our wars.
We are introduced to Thomas Egan in a series of close-ups of his mouth, his eyes and his hair as he’s doing his job, destroying targets which have been selected for him. He’s the kind of guy who keeps things to himself even when under severe stress, so when his job begins to affect his home life he tends to just act cold and distant. He has a good house, pretty wife and two cute kids, but he can’t help but bring his job home with him in some way. He can’t even tell his wife what he’s done at work for the day, because the details of what he and his crew do is not supposed to leave the bunker. He does tell a guy in a shop that he blew away six Taliban that morning, but the man doesn’t believe him and thinks he’s just wearing fake badges and a costume. His job becomes more and more difficult to deal with when he has to kill civilians, sometimes young children, that either get in the way or are near his actual target or targets. Ironically though, when he witnesses a man twice go to the same woman and beat and rape her, he can’t do anything about it. “He’s a bad guy” says his commander Lt. Colonel Jack Johns, “ but not our bad guy”. And then the CIA become the bosses of the group, and the kills become more and more questionable as they have to answer to an emotionless voice at the end of the line known to them only as Langley. It’s really no wonder that Thomas starts to crack.
Good Kill sometimes feels a bit abbreviated, as if we’re missing some scenes here and there. I would have liked to have known about Thomas’ career as a bomber pilot. Did he kill people? Much of the stuff involving Thomas and his family is very familiar and I do feel that Good Kill could have done with a bit more variety. The film is basically drone scene, Thomas at home scene, drone scene, and so forth, but it still manages to grip in its rather sombre, low key way, even if you know where much of it is going. It’s not revealing too much to say that things go very wrong for Thomas, and even when he tries to commit a positive act near the end he almost blows it. While unmistakeably showing the dehumanisation effect of war on humans, and perhaps saying that remote controlled warfare, hiding behind a drone, is doubly dehumanising, partly because of its sheer cowardice, Good Kill is quite balanced in its look at its subject. Thomas and Vera Suarez, the young woman in his group who is obviously attracted to him, are clearly shocked by what they have to do though Thomas tends to keep it internalised while even Vera does her best to hold back her tears. Joseph Zimmer and Roy Carlos are both in favour of what they are doing, Joseph being your typical ‘gung ho’ American, while Jack Jones their commander….well, we’re not sure exactly what he thinks, but he clearly has to pretend to be in favour even if he isn’t.
Despite the repetition, all this is very chilling, from the bombing of a funeral to the official verbiage used in an effort to avoid words like “killing” and “innocent bystanders”, and a lot of uncomfortable suspense results from the ten seconds between aiming at your target and hitting it, though a chuckle can be had when Jack admits that their programme is based on X-Box games and that many of the recruits have been selected because they are gamers. Despite Good Kill being a very talky piece, cinematographer Amir Mokri [his fine work here proves that the horrible photography and ugly look of Man Of Steel was mostly Zach Snyder’s doing] shoots much of the film in greens and yellows – there’s even a scene where Thomas and Jack are talking and both their faces are green on one side and yellow on the other – and there seems to be quite an emphasis on almost regimented set design, with green, in particular, all over the place. Niccoll’s direction is clean and slightly distant, which is appropriate for the subject matter.
Hawke, an actor truly at the top of his game at the moment, gives a very convincing and intelligent performance even though he seems to be making the more world weary kind of movie hero his specialty, and out of the rest of the cast it’s only really Zoe Kravitz [yes, Lenny’s daughter] who lets the side down, though her role isn’t the best written of roles to be honest and I’m not sure if the character needed to be in the film except as eye candy. In any case, Good Kill, aided by Christophe Beck’s quite subtle, but very effective, scoring of the ‘drone’ scenes, in no way deserved to all-but-disappear when it came out in cinemas and I hope that word gets around that, despite a few flaws, it’s a worthwhile viewing experience that will make you think. War is terrifying anyway, but it’s now getting even more so. As Jack says; “Drones aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’re going everywhere”. It’ll be the police next.
Arrow’s Blu-ray of Good Kill is a superb looking disc, the film’s Las Vegas scenes virtually jumping out at you. The extras are not numerous in nature, but the short behind the scenes featurette is quite a good example of its kind.