Ethan Hawke stars in this thought-provoking modern warfare drama as a U.S. Air Force drone pilot who's tormented by serious moral dilemma on his job
"It happens. Wrong place at a wrong time." -- Maybe accidents do happen when the military accidentally bombed some innocent lives. But what if they were killing without knowing for sure if the targets were any threat at all to your country? Does this justify their self-defence actions or does it make them no different than the culprits of 9/11? Contrary to the ironic self-congratulatory title, this drama is a thought-provoking piece that explores the right or wrong doings in modern warfare.
Director-writer Andrew Niccol, whose last two pictures were rather disappointing (Host and In Time), is reunited with Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Before Sunrise trilogy), who starred in Nicole's Lord of War (2005) and his debut film Gattaca (1997), as Hawke plays Major Thomas Egan, a U.S. Air Force drone pilot who wants to go back to flying real jets rather than controlling drones to carry out dodgy classified stealth missions to kill Talibans without actually being in the battlefield. As this is as safe and effortless as playing a war video game on a couch with air conditioner, he feels like coward and craves to be physically in the air and in real combat again despite having a hot wife (January Jones as Molly), children and a home to go to.
He may seem very much like the protagonists in The Hurt Locker (2008) and American Sniper (2014) at the beginning, but as the story goes on, the film turns out to be more anti-propaganda than these heavier Oscar-involved war films. This character actually develops PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after accidentally killing two innocent children and reluctantly continued to obey orders from the CIA to eliminate any group of people in the Middle East who their "reliable sources" claim are threats to the United States. Some pilots love their job and strongly believe that they're doing the right thing to protect their own people, but for the more humane and compassionate ones like Thomas and his colleague Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz), they begin to question the ethics of these aggressive self-defence approaches.
Although the film does not have the same intensity or any war combat action sequence, it is very intriguing and engaging, and impressively, it's done by only filming what the pilots are seeing and doing in their box on the desert in their own country. The drones are not shown during the characters' missions. Great performance by Ethan Hawke who portrays a protagonist that's quiet on the outside but in pain and torn on the inside. The same cannot be said about January Jones' wooden acting that caused the relationship drama between her and Hawke less believable and emotional than it could've been. It certainly does not help, too, when the written dialogues are a bit too straightforward with choppy cinematography and editing. The ending is almost too socially acceptable, as in real life, there would've been serious consequences. I shall not spoil any further.
Nevertheless, although Good Kill may not be as dramatically heavy or gripping as the Oscar-involved war films, it is genuinely thought-provoking on the specific subjects of the modern warfare and drone policies. This film could effectively create awareness and trigger debates and criticism on these important issues.
Malaysian censorship: At the local press screening, nothing seemed to be cut at all. The very brief non-nude sex sequence, rape and vulgarities were all uncensored.
Second opinion: My girlfriend usually hates war films but she said she didn't mind this one.
Verdict: An engagingly thought-provoking anti-propaganda modern warfare drama.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director-writer: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Zoe Kravitz, January Jones, Jake Abel
Malaysia Release Date: 16 April 2015
Local Distributor: TGV Pictures
Production: Voltage Pictures, Sobini Films
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