Good Kill full movie review - "Good Kill" is good propaganda.
Is there such a thing as a good kill? The military uses that phrase for confirmation of the death of human targets. In other words, a kill can be "good", as in completed, but is it good, as in positive, desirable and appropriate?
With satellites powerful enough to show the expression on the face of a person on the ground, military men and women can confirm kills and do body counts immediately and accurately. This helps drone pilots who rely on satellite images to place ordnance on target and evaluate its effectiveness. These days, the military can fire missiles and view the aftermath from half a world away ? and they do. Remote controlled drones in various areas of the world are flown by Airmen in the United States. There's no danger to the pilots, but the drones are very lethal to our enemies on the ground ? and anyone unlucky enough to be close by. The drone program has increased dramatically in the past several years ? along with the questions about the morality and efficacy of using such technology in fighting the War on Terror. The movie "Good Kill" (R, 1:42) explores these questions and the effect of drone warfare on drone targets overseas and drone pilots in the U.S.
Ethan Hawke stars as Major Thomas Egan, an Air Force pilot with six overseas tours and currently in the midst of his third tour as a drone pilot at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. (Nellis isn't referred to by name, but it's a safe assumption, based on the frequent shots of Hawke's character driving home by way of Las Vegas Blvd.) Egan has a couple beautiful kids and a beautiful wife (January Jones), but his attitude isn't very beautiful. He deeply longs for another combat assignment, even though his commanding officer, Colonel Johns (Bruce Greenwood) reminds him that combat deployments are waning, while drone flights are picking up. Besides missing "the fear" of combat (as he puts it), Egan is clearly uncomfortable with both the harsh realities of combat via video screen ? while having "no skin in the game". Even though Egan is unhappy with his job, he occupies the emotional middle ground when it comes to supporting his unit's mission. Besides himself and the colonel, his team includes fellow pilot Captain Christie (Dylan Kenin), mission intelligence coordinator, Zimmer (Jake Abel), both of whom enthusiastically support the drone strikes, and newbie Airman 1st Class Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz), who goes from praising the local combination of "battle and blackjack" to becoming very upset with her role in the strikes.
The film shows a number of missions, which become increasingly morally ambiguous as the story progresses. We see Egan pull his shift, successfully conduct drone missions, go home to his family, drink vodka straight out of the bottle, not talk about work (or much else), start a new day and do it all again. It's mundane to him, but interesting to watch as we non-drone-pilots learn much about how the program works. Eventually, Egan's team gets tasked to directly support the Central Intelligence Agency. None of them are happy about it, but they're now taking their orders straight from Langley ? a term both referring figuratively to the Virginia location of C.I.A. Headquarters, and the specific person giving the team instructions via speaker phone (voiced by Peter Coyote). The C.I.A. uses different ROE (Rules of Engagement) than the Airmen had before. The new procedures for drone strikes further divide the team and affect their personal lives. Egan's family life suffers even more as he's driven towards depression (if he wasn't there already). The tension builds ? both in the team's air conditioned trailer and in Egan's house ? and we can see that something's gotta give.
I would describe "Good Kill" as good propaganda. It's propaganda in the sense that it emphasizes one point of view, but good propaganda in that it also addresses the opposite point of view, if only nominally. The results of the drone strikes are shown as graphically as one can see through a satellite, and then described by the characters in even more graphic detail. We hear arguments both for and against the strikes, but only the arguments against them are shown in visual images and in the actions of the characters. Characters in favor of the program are portrayed as unintelligent, callous brutes and characters who demonstrate opposition to the program are shown to be conflicted heroes. "Langley" is ridiculously portrayed as verbally justifying the strikes when his instructions are questioned in the heat of combat, and even then, those short speeches only seem to serve as an excuse for various Airmen's eyes to roll or to fill with tears. Even when characters present arguments in favor of the drone strikes, a careful observer will hear counter-arguments in the midst of those speeches. Lastly, as great as the Las Vegas scenery is, showing so much of it did nothing for the film's plot.
This film does do a service as it addresses the drone program more completely than I've ever seen in any other movie, and it's fairly entertaining as it does so, but the film's mixed messages get in the way ? hurting both the movie's entertainment value and the contrarian position that it clearly takes about its subject matter. At times, I couldn't take my eyes off the movie screen, but I left the theater upset ? yes, because of the images of the drone strikes, but more because of how their context was presented ? and when - right before Memorial Day Weekend. Does the public need to know more about the drone strikes taking place in our name and be able to weigh in on them? Absolutely. Is that cause helped by a mostly anti-military story presented just as our nation is remembering those who gave their lives to keep us safe? Absolutely not. "C-"