Jake Abel in The Good Kill.Jake Abel in The Good Kill.

The Good Kill
Director: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Zthan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz
102 mins; Class 15;
Eden Cinemas release

Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) is a former US Air Force fighter pilot who, after six tours of duty, now attacks terror suspects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He does this via remote controlled drone which he pilots from the relative safety of a small trailer on a Las Vegas army base.

Egan is itching to get back into the air. Yet, at the same time, when the CIA starts issuing drone attack orders, his conscience is plagued by the questions that swirl around his head as he begins to wonder whether those people he is killing are truly all terrorists.

As the attacks become more frequent and intense, with seemingly less care about the presence of civilians in the target zones, Egan’s inner turmoil soon begins to affect his outward behaviour, both towards the mission and his wife (January Jones) back home.

Good Kill (a phrase muttered by Egan each time the target he has centred on his screen is annihilated a few seconds after he presses a button on his console) is a 21st-century war movie which takes us away from the hot, dusty and dangerous Iraqi and Afghan war zones we are so used to seeing depicted on the big screen.

It’s an excellent depiction of modern warfare, a direct, dispassionate way of disposing of threats; yet its cold efficiency is remarkably chilling as we, like Egan and his team, observe so many destructive deaths all those thousands of miles away.

What makes it even more alarming is the accuracy of the equipment.

They observe the comings and goings of their targets almost as if they are peeping over a neighbour’s wall, while stringently sticking to their orders, which come over a speakerphone via the unmistakeable tones of the never-seen actor Peter Coyote).

That Egan and his crew can do nothing when they observe a loathsome man who preys on an innocent woman, sexually assaulting her in her own yard, while they look on in revulsion is particularly telling.

“He’s a bad guy,” they observe, “but not our bad guy.”

Writer and director Andrew Niccol, who so often has depicted the inherent dangers of technology in his screenplays (including 1997’s Gattaca and 1998’s The Truman Show) here tackles the latest advances in combat.

Yet, it is a film that is far away from the jingoism so often prevalent in movies of this type.

It details the psychological toll it takes on the pilots pushing the buttons and throwing into the spotlight the futility of their actions as they wonder whether the war on terror is any closer to being won. Hawke’s performance as the former war hero, now still a respected soldier yet but slowly fraying at the edges , is gripping and intense.

This is a flawed and complex man, unable to reconcile his customary patriotism with this new way of doing war; while wondering whether he is becoming somewhat of a drone himself.

He leads an excellent cast, including Bruce Greenwood as his commanding officer Colonel Johns, clearly as disillusioned as Egan; and Zoe Kravitz as the sole voice of reason.

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