DIR: Andrew Niccol • WRI: Derek Kolstad • PRO: Mark Amin, Nicolas Chartier, Zev Foreman • DOP: Amir Mokri • DES: Guy Barnes • MUS: Christophe Beck • Cast: January Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Ethan Hawke, Jake Abel
Good Kill is the latest feature film from Andrew Niccol, who sci-fi fans will know as the writer/director of the cult classic Gattaca (1997) and more recently for In Time (2011). Now, however, Niccol teams up once again with Ethan Hawke to direct his first non-sci-fi movie, a war/family drama set in Las Vegas, Good Kill. And he’s hit it out of the park. with this well-directed, brilliantly acted and intelligently written film.
Now the thing about Nicoll’s previous sci-fi films is that they weren’t as interested in showing us how the dystopic futures they portrayed fall or change, they were more interested in simply showing us how people would live in these realities as a reflection of our own. He does something similar here, except he does it with drone pilots, and while he does use this film as an opportunity to make a few jabs at the C.I.A. and the close-minded “my country ‘tis of thee” patriotism that informs the thinking of many soldiers, for the most part he allows the characters to bring up the advantages and disadvantages of drone warfare and allows you as an audience member to make up your own mind on this topic. Although at the same time Nicoll manages to get his own opinion on drone warfare across without rubbing it in the audience’s face.
The film engages from the start, showing us a group of pilots in the middle of a drone run while utilising its impressive Middle-Eastern inspired musical score courtesy of Christophe Beck. From there, the film is composed of scenes of protagonist Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) either at work, listening to his fellow soldiers weakly attempt to justify what they do for a living, drinking too much, or neglecting his family while his life starts to visibly crumble around him.
Now a film like this, where the narrative is in and around a year of the life of the protagonist, fails or succeeds on the main actor’s performance. And Hawke nails it. Granted, Hawke proved how good he was way back in 1985 in classic family film Explorers alongside the late great River Phoenix, and he’s been proving it ever since. The rest of the cast, including Zoe Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Mad Men’s January Jones as Tom’s long-suffering wife, also acquit themselves extremely well. Granted, Jones unfortunately doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but that’s kind of the point, the whole narrative takes place from Tom’s perspective, the reason she isn’t in it much is to hammer home the point that he’s neglecting her.
The cinematography courtesy of DOP. Amir Mokri is stunning. The problem with films like this where the same location(s) are constantly re-used is that they can become visually monotonous. To combat this, whenever we return to the same location, Mokri places his camera in a different position, creating a new angle so this film can re-use locations and yet still remain interesting to look at. Also, the film takes place in Vegas, meaning we get the mandatory sweeping shots of the city, and while these kind of sweeping shots are a cliché, they’re well executed enough that you still enjoy looking at the beautiful city in which the narrative takes place. As well as that, the film’s vibrant colour palette is a welcome change from the starker, greyer, drearier colour palette of the more recent war films like Fury
Good Kill presents drone warfare through Tom Egan’s jaded, world-weary eyes: as just another dead-end job. Tom and Colonel Johns (Bruce Greenwood) are both presented as jaded cynics who have long-forgotten about “the American way”, which presumably inspired them to join the army in the first place in their younger days, and now just see the job as a way to pay their bills, and simply trying (though often failing) to avoid thinking about whether or not what they’re doing is right. Egan’s co-pilot Suarez (Zoe Kravitz), however, is a vocal detractor of what they’re doing, especially when the C.I.A. starts getting involved in their operations and ordering them to act… questionably. Meanwhile, on the complete opposite of end of the spectrum, two of the junior drone pilots act like the stereotypical white, privileged, self-aggrandising macho “America is always right, even when its wrong” knuckleheads that would typically be the main characters in a Call of Duty/Medal of Honour/Battlefield game.
Egan has become an emotionally closed-off, alcoholic, passive aggressive borderline masochist who emotionally neglects his wife, making his suburban family existence with his beautiful wife and loving children a truly nightmarish existence in what is ostensibly a dream come true.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Good Kill is released 10th April 2015