REVIEW: Good Kill

22 06 2015

Good KillUsually, we consider a film a success when its form matches its content.  In the case of Andrew Niccol’s “Good Kill,” though, the opposite is true.  The movie, which tackles the escalation of drone warfare in the Middle East, takes on the form of a droning screed itself.

It should have felt particularly damning that Niccol chose to make a film set in the present day, since his features – which include “Gattaca,” “The Truman Show,” and “In Time” – tend to take place in dystopian futures.  But rather than expanding the discourse around the U.S. military’s increasing reliance on unmanned aircraft to do its dirty work, he chooses to preach to the choir with surface-level platitudes.  The target audience for “Good Kill” probably knows the basic philosophical and existential arguments around drones, and Niccol does nothing to explore our complicity in their perpetuating existence.

He sets the film in 2010, the apotheosis of drone strikes in the Middle East, and follows the slow evolution of Ethan Hawke’s jaded Air Force pilot Thomas Egan against the increasingly unethical tasks assigned to him by the CIA.  Of course, he would not arrive at those conclusions without a spring chicken of a female pilot, Zoë Kravitz’s Vera, who does little other than spout off the film’s core message.  Vera is not a character so much as she is a personified Washington Post column.

Perhaps if “Good Kill” actually arrived in theaters in the same year in which it’s set, the film might have landed with a greater impact.  But now, in a post-Snowden world, the notion that America does unethical things with drone aircrafts has moved past the point of shock and sadly towards apathy.  Niccol blows a chance to reignite the debate by using Egan as a proxy; if we cannot care about an issue, maybe we will care about a character.  But Hawke gives a surly frown rather than a nuanced portrayal of alienated labor, a perfect storm of phoned-in acting and thinly sketched characterization.

If you watch the news (or this John Oliver segment), you certainly know that America currently resides in a diplomatic crisis that could rival the scale of catastrophes in any of Niccol’s previous features.  Yet the world he imagines in “Good Kill” still feels lifeless and drained of vitality, despite its urgency.  Something needs to move the needle of public opinion, though that something certainly will not be “Good Kill,” which can never shed the aura of a modern morality play.  C+2stars

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