Review: Good Kill
PLOT: An air-force drone pilot (Ethan Hawke) stationed in Vegas but remotely flying missions in Afghanistan, struggles with the reality of his new position.
REVIEW: GOOD KILL is a film that both could and should have been excellent. Writer-director Andrew Niccol has returned time-and-time again to the idea of technology's effect on the human spirit, and with real drone attacks being such a current concern, this could have been thought-provoking.
The movie starts off well enough, with a well-written speech by Bruce Greenwood's cynical commander as he lectures recruits on the reality of the jobs, and how this isn't a motherf*cking video game even though he says that the interface was modelled on X-Box. Our hero is Hawke's seen-it-all major, who's found himself plucked from his F-16 and forced to fly drones. Even though he's regarded as the base's best pilot, he's deeply uncomfortable with the idea of flying deadly missions and then returning home each night to his unhappy wife (January Jones) and kids.
With Hawke in the lead and Niccol directing this had all the ingredients to be a fascinating character study, but the film loses its way early on and never recovers. For one thing, Hawke's home-life is given short shrift, with January Jones having a deeply one-dimensional part as his wife, and not really demonstrating much in the way of chops when it comes to her big scene with Hawke towards the end. I hesitate to put too much blame on her though. It's a dull part so she can't help but be dull herself.
GOOD KILL fares even worse when it comes to Hawke's relationship with the rest of his crew, with Zoe Kravitz' new recruit pretty much throwing herself at her officer-superior from day one, and his support team, which includes Jake Abel (who does great work in another TIFF title LOVE AND MERCY) as a wannabe intelligence officer who starts to enjoy the work too much. Nobody but Hawke gets any character development, with him going from a by-the-book officer to a borderline section eight awfully fast once they start flying CIA-sanctioned air strikes. It all feels like it could have been executed so much more effectively. Instead, it's simply boring, which is something a movie with a subject matter like this should never be.
At least GOOD KILL isn't all bad. There are some effective moments, including the crew observing a brutal rape on the ground but unable to intervene against an unsanctioned target. The double-talk-fuelled exchanges with the unseen CIA analyst (Peter Coyote) are also intriguing, with everyone sure not to use words like kill. Also, Bruce Greenwood is excellent as the sympathetic commander, who's quick to dress-down anyone who starts to treat the missions like a game, and also feels for the pilots who are about to crack, with their missions getting harder to justify.
Maybe if I had seen GOOD KILL outside of TIFF, or at least in a less impressive year it would have come off better, but as it is, this takes an intriguing subject and makes it dull. Hawke is good, but he can't save a film that's by-the-numbers when it should have been utterly intriguing. This is a well-intentioned miss-fire.