Good Kill – Film Review

Simon Walton sees the latest from Ethan Hawke coming – which is a privilege not extended to most of the supporting cast.

Moody but immaculately dressed.  Disciplined and in control.  A man with a purpose.  Fans of Ethan Hawke will read this and immediately think Gattica.  Well they might, as writer-director, Andrew Niccol, teams up with the scowling superstar for the third time to collaborate on Good Kill, the new movie that turns the spotlight on the high-tech low-profile world of modern warfare.

From what is, to all intents and purposes, a shipping container in the middle of a Nevada desert, Hawke’s decorated former fighter pilot character, Major Tom Egan, brings down death from above, in the silent, pitiless form of unmanned aerial vehicles, better known to you, me, and the Taliban, as Reaper Drones

Full of the jargon and terminology that euphemisms incineration from an unseen foe, Good Kill is the ultimate irony.  Even in daylight and staring straight up into the sky, the drones that Hawke and his guide to ground zero at supersonic speed is invisible to the intended target.

The eponymous oxymoron is the description assigned to the effective obliteration of one or more individuals, materiel, or locations – a good kill without an excess of collateral – innocent bystanders, irrespective of gender or age.  On that corner of a foreign field, rubble and burning bodies are the inevitable outcome.  For Major Egan, the inevitable is as mundane as handing off to the relief crew, as he jumps in his Top Gun era muscle car and stops by the store to pick up the charcoal for a family barbecue – the film is not short of irony.

In that might be the story.  The war on terrorism – going as well as the war on drugs – to spill the film’s best moment of comic relief.  The laughs may be sparse, but there is much more of an undercurrent flowing through the Las Vegas suburbanscape.  This otherwise straightforward story as unremitting tense as the desert sun that beats down on Hawke and his suburban home, complete with EasyTurf artificial grass, two kids and beautiful wife, played by a pained January Jones

The extensive aerial footage is convincingly chilling, and some scenes are downright disturbing.  Set in 2010, at the height of drone operations, the film, like the conflict in Afghanistan it portrays, is a war on multiple fronts – most of them personal.  As any general will tell their troops, that’s a war you cannot win.  Where that leaves Egan is in a bad place, that takes the rest of the film to play out.  There’s an inevitability to the finale, arriving as it does silently, unseen, unheard, and with devastating consequences.  Don’t be fooled by the focus-group inspired happy ever after closing scene – so obviously tacked on to satisfy the production company craving for an uplifting ending.

Hawke has made a career from moody, troubled souls.  The Before Sunrise trilogy, Boyhood, and Lord of War all have echoes here.  Fans will not be disappointed. The rest of us may just become converts.

Good Kill (Certificate 15) is on general release from 10 April 2015


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