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.

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REVIEW: Dope

21 06 2015

DopeIf writer/director Rick Famuyiwa’s movie “Dope” were one of your friends at a party, he would be the friend that thinks himself invincible when letting any mind-altering substance enter his bloodstream.  This is the guy that thinks every jumbled fragment that leaves his mouth is divinely inspired and merits inclusion in some kind of philosophical toe.  He is the guy that makes dangerous decisions, assuming they are perfectly reasonable, and somehow convinces you to go along with them.

“Dope” tries to subvert racial stereotypes by having a drug dealer who knows what the phrase “a slippery slope” means (yet does not recognize it as a fallacy) and a main character, Shameik Moore’s dorky Malcolm, who prefers the artistry of ’90s hip-hop as opposed to the commercialism of present-day rappers.  The film attempts to be a coming-of-age story, a romance, a drama that grapples with race, a comic drug caper like “Pineapple Express,” and ultimately a heist film.

In other words, Famuyiwa attempts a lot and completes a little; what he does complete does not feel entirely convincing.

I can let a film that does mediocre humor slide – and with tired gags involving a floozy, coked-out heiress, “Dope” has quite a bit to spare. Not every con film needs to reach the heights of “American Hustle,” either.  But blowing what could have served as a vital discussion about racial identity at a time when America really needs to talk about thee issues just left a really bitter taste in my mouth.

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