Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) was once a fighter pilot who served multiple tours overseas for the United States. After drones began to take over the skies, Tom was retasked to operate and carry out drone commands. So, every single day, he reports to a shipping container base and kills enemies all the way overseas. Tom’s commander, Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood), gives him the benefit of the doubt because he knows that Tom misses flying, but a C.I.A. joint operation really complicates things. Tom isn’t pleased with the work he’s doing, despite having his wife (January Jones) and family so close. When his morals really get in the way of the job, his family, his career, and his sanity come into question.
Good Kill has a lot to say about drone warfare and about how war has become less personal and possibly more dangerous. With fewer troops on the ground and more air support, you’d assume that we’re doing something right. Yet every week, there are always more reports about Drone attacks and the dozens of innocent civilians that are killed in the blast. The film juggles the morality of killing people from worlds away and the ease that goes into labeling someone an immediate threat to the United States of America. At the heart of the film, we also get a heartbreaking portrait of a man tortured by his job.
Ethan Hawke, as always, carries the film with the way he carries himself. His Drone pilot is quite and reserved, never overstating or overstaying his welcome. He performs most tasks without hesitation, but goes home to reflect on the atrocities he believes that he’s committed. Rather than talking, he shuts down his family and drinks his sorrow away. Once a pilot in the sky, Hawke’s character longs to return to real warfare and the skies, despite it meaning that he leave his wife and children. He’s not happy with his job and we see his emotional capacity to perform his job dwindle as his alcoholism takes control when he’s forced to ramp up his killings. He’s not even on the front lines, but he’s responsible for killing some of the top terrorists in the world. To the government and many others, he’s a hero. To the innocent civilians in cities where there is no where, he’s a terrorist blowing away civilians based off of “reliable source claims”. He’s his own worst enemy and Hawke plays the character brilliantly.
The morality of Drone warfare is nothing new in today’s world, with many people and countries outspoken about the atrocities it brings. There’s no doubt that the war becomes impersonal when you leave the killing to some gamers-turned-fighters and there’s very little intel that the drones can pick up, other than zoomed-in faces. Many of the drone operators are told where to shoot and do so, never knowing who may walk into the crosshairs. Many of the civilians in the towns we see are still living day-to-day lives, interrupted when a drone strike takes out an entire building, killing women and children in the surrounding area. We’re told that there are casualties of war no matter what, which is an unfortunate reality,but the film emphasizes just how awful that reality is when the innocent bodies outnumber the guilty.
Many people raved about Bradley Cooper‘s portrayal of PTSD in the Oscar nominated film, American Sniper, but Ethan Hawke certainly gives him a run for his money. Both characters become reclusive and quiet when they’re back home, despite being surrounded by those who love and support them. For some reason, both men just want to be back in the face of danger because that’s where they feel they can make a difference. Hawke is living near the base in a huge house and has everything he could need. He serves his country and then comes home to his family every night, but for him that’s not enough. He clearly states that he doesn’t know what he’s doing “but it’s not flying”, which is perhaps about as much as his character opens up. It’s upsetting and saddening to see his character suffer, but the effect he has on his wife is almost more troubling. January Jones isn’t given all that much to do, but she does try to rekindle their marriage. She makes every effort she can to communicate with Hawke and he rarely opens up.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, Good Kill sets us up with a slew of characters you’d find in a film that second-guesses our government. You’ve got Jake Abel and Dylan Kenin playing two drone operators who can only see everyone as the bad guy. To them, we’re saving the world and doing the job that no one else wants. If civilians die, they had it coming to them because they’re living in their homes still. Zoe Kravitz‘s character comes along and adds more emotion to the film, but her character’s upset nature with her job is nothing surprising. It’s clear that she’s not as able to process killing innocent civilians and her morality gets in the way of her work. While Bruce Greenwood’s commander is a bit cliche, he does utter one line that can accurately sum up how people will view drone warfare. He states “Don’t ask me if this is a just war… To us, it’s just war.”
Good Kill firmly asserts what it thinks of drone warfare, leaving the audience to decide for themselves. Writer/Director Andrew Niccol leaves enough in the film to leave the audience questioning their previous beliefs. We see how quickly and effectively we can kill those who pose a threat to us, but we are also asked to watch innocent civilians lose their lives for our gain. There’s a sub-plot involving surveillance of a man who routinely beats a woman and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Drones hold a lot of power and consequences every time they’re sent into the air, so it’s up to you to sit back, observe and decide what’s right.
Good Kill Trailer