Cinema Review: Good Kill | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Good Kill

Studio: IFC Films
Directed by Andrew Niccol

May 18, 2015 Web Exclusive
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After September 11, 2001, the United States heavily increased its use of drones as a combat tool in war. Remotely controlled, unmanned aircraft, the machines were (and are) able to rain death down from the skies, at heights of ten thousand feet or more, without risking a soldier’s life. When not assaulting enemy compounds, drone pilots could also provide overwatch and support for ground troops, giving cover to sleeping squads or helping clear out enemy insurgents. Despite their combat advantages, drones and drone use are highly contentious among the U.S. civilian population for the collateral damage they cause—particularly the deaths of innocents caught in the blast.

Writer-director Andrew Niccol (Lord of War, Gattaca, writer on The Truman Show) takes on drones in his latest feature, Good Kill. Ethan Hawke stars as Tom Egan, an air force pilot who did six tours overseas and now kills Taliban rebels via drone strike from an air-conditioned hangar in Las Vegas. The remoteness and anonymity of this new style of waging war have gotten under Tom’s skin. He’s turned to the bottle for solace and frequently puts in requests to return to actual combat. Tom’s reservations about the war, and his alcoholism, are compounded when the CIA takes over his unit, ordering Tom and his squad to carry out surreptitious attacks, which seemingly violate the rules of combat and force even the most senior members of the squad to question their mission.

In Good Kill, Niccol sheds light on an important aspect of an ongoing war, which many Americans increasingly take umbrage with. It’s not a subject we’ve seen debated on film much—certainly never to this degree. And make no mistake about it: through Egan, Niccol creates a perfect foil for questioning not only drones, but the clandestine ways in which this ambiguous war on terror is being fought—ways that blur the lines between righteous and reprehensible. Given the important nature of the film, it’s a shame the end product isn’t more entertaining. As a whole, Good Kill is fairly one-note. Egan is unhappy; he becomes more and more unhappy with each ensuing drone strike; in the end, he finally acts. The premise—as with military rules—does not allow for too much deviation, too much unprompted action. The story is confined, both literally to the little hangar in which Tom works, and within its setup. NIccol employs devastating and morally crushing drone strikes countless times throughout. Their effect—on us, as on Egan—is draining. In that, they work as a cinematic device. At the same time, however, they lend the film a sense of repetition, of a plot not quite robust enough to fill the 102 minutes it stretches on for. The cast give solid performances throughout, and Niccol proves yet again a director more than capable of helming a feature narrative, but a thinned, straining plot keeps the film from being the great piece of modern warfare cinema it had the potential to be.

Author rating: 6/10

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