“Don't ask me if this is a just war. It's just war.”
Director Andrew Niccol has proven in the past that he’s capable of directing smart and intelligent sci-fi films like Gattaca, but he can also direct duds like The Host. Good Kill is on the one hand a unique war film because it focuses on the army’s use of drones for fighting and the effects it has on the soldiers, but on the other hand it feels very repetitive and heavy handed with the message. Ethan Hawke plays Tom Egan, a former Air Force pilot who has served on six tours, but is currently fighting from inside a bunker near Las Vegas controlling the drones like if he was playing a video game. He is fighting the war in a way he isn’t accustomed to, and the effects of each long distance kill are taking a toll on him. As opposed to his tours, he can now return home each day to his beautiful wife Molly (January Jones) and two kids. But he can’t manage to separate his comfortable life at home with his service in the bunker. He’s desperate to get back on a real plane, but his superior, Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood) needs him to continue fighting the war from the control room. Tom begins to question the ethics of what he’s doing, and he’s also having trouble communicating his feeling to his wife whom he feels more and more distanced to. He feels like a coward at times and it’s a feeling that his new partner, Vera (Zoe Kravitz) seems to share with him. When the crew begin receiving direct orders from the CIA, his ethical questioning gains more weight and his life begins to unravel at home.
The film opens with a very interesting premise and the first fifteen minutes are gripping. Ethan Hawke delivers a solid role in this character study that shows the effect that the war is taking on him, but after a while everything begins to feel extremely repetitive and the story begins to drag while continuing to hammer the nail in the same place. He questions each order he receives, he returns home to his nagging wife, he drowns himself in alcohol, and the next day the same thing happens. The film lacks subtlety and it focuses on the effects that fighting a war from home has on some of these soldiers in a rather conventional way. Ethan Hawke gives a much more subtle and restrained performance than what we are used to seeing him in. He delivers a very solid performance and we see the stress that he’s going through simply by looking at the wrinkles in his forehead (which explains the use of extreme close ups on Hawke’s face). He makes this a much better movie than what it really is, but it wasn’t enough for me to recommend it. Niccol is basically criticizing the new video game style of war policy by portraying the ethical dilemma the soldiers go through. Good Kill lacks subtlety but we do see a side of the war we hadn’t seen before.
The secondary cast doesn’t get much to do here since the film basically focuses on Hawke’s character. January Jones probably suffers the most due to the stereotypical character she has to play. We’ve seen this role of the nagging wife who doesn’t understand what her husband’s going through played out many times before. The melodrama at home is what ultimately hurts this film and drags it down. Zoe Kravitz and Bruce Greenwood have some interesting scenes, but the repetitive nature of the story becomes unbearable at times. Good Kill tries to say a lot, but it ultimately doesn’t say much. Many have compared it to Eastwood’s American Sniper, but other than the long distance killings there’s not any more similarities. Niccol focuses more on the ethical dilemma of this new approach to war, but he does it by beating the audience over the head with the same idea and through the use of heavy dialogue. It’s as if he’s forcing the audience to interpret things his way. Niccol’s greatest weakness in Good Kill is his own script overloaded with stereotypical characters which wasted an interesting premise.