Good Kill (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Although a member of the U.S. Air Force, Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) has not been on a plane as a fighter pilot for years. Instead, he is a part of the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) stationed in Nevada, controlling drones from halfway across the world. Already unhappy with where his career has ended up, he begins to question whether it is morally right to keep performing his job after the CIA becomes a significant part of his unit’s missions.
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, “Good Kill” tells an unexpectedly engaging portrait of a man who controls military drones while sitting in an air-conditioned shipping container in the middle of a desert. This is due to a powerful and focused screenplay that highlights the impersonalization of war from several angles. During the film, we are forced to ask ourselves: If we are given the chance to kill someone, for whatever reason or none at all, from halfway across the world—to watch them die, to observe their burnt and crumpled bodies, likely to be in pieces, can we do it?
Hawke has a gift for playing characters with clipped wings. In Niccol’s modern science fiction classic “Gattaca,” Hawke plays a man who dreams of visiting space but is restricted from doing so because he is genetically imperfect. Only the best of the best are able to go up there. Here, he plays a man who wishes to pilot a fighter plane once again but technology has gotten so advanced over the years that it is deemed there is no need to take such unnecessary risks. Instead, he sits behind a computer as if he were a kid playing a video game—the key difference being that every action he takes has real-life, very often fatal, consequences.
Just about every scene hinges on Hawke’s body language. Major Egan is a quiet man. Even when he speaks, his words tend to say very little, much to the frustration of his wife (January Jones). Thus, it depends on us to observe closely what his body is saying given a situation. For instance, notice how he walks toward the shipping container where he is required to do a job he detests. He looks fatigued, dejected. He might as well have weights tied around his ankles. When at home, his eyes are rarely present, always staring at something very far away—as if in mourning of the man he used to be.
Hawke builds a dramatic gravity through body language, a task not at all easy to accomplish. This is proven by his co-star, Jones, who is by far the worst performer on screen. Just about everything she does looks forced and fake: the looks of worry, the tears, the feelings of abandonment. When she is on screen, the material drags a bit—a stark contrast against Hawke’s subtle and effective performance. While Jones is beautiful physically, it is a challenge to relate to her thoroughly because of her inauthentic acting.
Appropriately, the film is at its most powerful during the missile strikes. We watch the monitor closely as we hear the characters perform checks and countdowns. We look at the people being targeted. We look at the surroundings. Complications happen. Mistakes cannot be taken back. Unlike a video game, you cannot simply push a button and restart from the last save point. Instead, you take the dire mistakes with you and they fester in the mind.