Directed by Andrew Niccol
Strange that this past year has two high-profile films about the US military where the hero suffers from an unquenchable PTSD and begins the film causing the death of a child. Good Kill, a welcome return to form by director Andrew Niccol, considers the weight that drone warfare has on the pilots who operate the craft. They’re in no personal danger, but the war still scars.
Ethan Hawke stars as an Air Force veteran who has been reduced to operating a joystick in a box that looks like a cross between an RV and port-a-potty. It seems significant that the film is set in Las Vegas, a city that feels artificial but exists to devastate the unlucky, just as drone warfare is a facsimile of war that also metes out devastating consequences to those in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Good Kill regurgitates the pros and cons of drone warfare (mostly the cons), with the story often pausing for one character (typically Bruce Greenwood as Hawke’s commander; he’s very good despite having to serve as Niccol’s mouthpiece) to monologue an op-ed. The theses of these boil down to: it’s so easy to kill people this way. Why verify intel or seek to minimize collateral damage when you can just push a button and not take the risk? Because it so clearly explains the moral issues of drones, it’s valuable, a film that could change debate if seen widely. That’s enough to offset its weaker elements, like the way Niccol frequently cuts to single, significant tears running down faces, or the too-familiar material with the impact Hawke’s PTSD has on his family (especially after American Sniper just covered similar material). The over-simplification of those issues stands out all the more for the complexity of the heart of the story.
In theaters May 15.