Good Kill (2015)

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“You look miles away.”

As a whole, Good Kill reflects the overall scope of its military drone driven story, meaning that it is entirely too distant. That’s simply the nature of a film like this. One can’t really imagine it being much different. There is just little to connect with. And while it’s awkwardly paced and directed, it asks a lot of appropriately hard-hitting questions. Like the best war films, Good Kill illustrates the personal trauma of the protagonists as well as questioning the motives of the enemy…the bad guys are given a face, are really not all that different from us. This isn’t anywhere near the upper echelon of warfare cinema, and barely makes its way into the middle, but it at least acknowledges what inferior films fail to.

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The transformative Ethan Hawke stars as Thomas Egan. He’s one of the best pilots around, but lack of in air demand and a wife wanting her husband back moves him towards the stationary field of UAV. He drinks – heavily – often manning the drones continents away while heavily buzzed. The devil’s water numbs Egan’s pain. He’s a man of the skies but can’t fly. He’s a man with a moral code but blasts away nameless victims with little to no emotion. The separation from battle leads to a separation from himself and his identity, and the trauma of defenseless point and shoot warfare begins to change him as a person.

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Good Kill is another lackluster effort from visionary Andrew Niccol. The writer/director has so many intriguing concepts and themes at the head of his stories, but lately he just hasn’t been able to capably translate the conceptual meanings into an engaging film. Niccol is a filmmaker who consciously crafts stories about challenging authority. Of going against the crowd and slicing against the grain. His first three attempts with Gattaca, S1m0ne, and Lord of War for the most part all worked incredibly well, although S1m0ne leaves a little to be desired. Then he followed those up with the incomplete In Time, a terrible adaptation of The Host, and this most recent feature. Niccol can write, but only 2 of his 6 directorial efforts are really worth watching or show a noticeable skill. He is the man who wrote 1998’s The Truman Show, which remains one of the most intelligent and thoughtful films produced by American cinema in the past two decades. And guess what? He didn’t direct it (that credit goes to Peter Weir).

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The film benefits from a strong presence of strong female characters. January Jones doesn’t have much dramatic range as an actress, but she’s decent enough as Mrs. Egan, Thomas’ detached and love lost wife. And Zoe Kravitz, to no surprise, is just splendid. She’s Vera Suarez, the newest member of Egan’s flight team and the conscious of the entire film. That’s a lot of weight for a minor character to hold, but Kravitz has such natural skill and screen persona that she capably pulls it off. She is Good Kill’s lone voice of reason. The representative figure of action vs. hesitance, preemptive behavior vs. reactionary, asking questions vs. taking orders. It’s the kind of necessary subtext missing altogether in a film like American Sniper. That’s not to say Good Kill is that much better. But when the moment matters most, it at least gets close enough to its target to raise our own levels of awareness. It makes you alert.

 “What about their right to bear arms?”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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