Good Kill September 5, 2016
I’d like to think that Good Kill is more a stagey thought-provoker than a cinematic masterpiece, but because its inclinations are timely and because its portrayals of psychological torment are telling, there’s not much more I can do besides come to the conclusion that it’s much more than the heady dose of brain games it at first seems to be. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol (the man behind Gattaca and the writer of The Truman Show), the film stars Ethan Hawke as Thomas Egan, an Air Force pilot who’s been demoted to the role of a resident eye in the sky in his stone-faced middle age.
Day in and day out does he man drone strikes coolly and efficiently. His co-workers, mostly young and still in the process of building their reps, are in awe of his placidity. But Egan’s aloof exterior has more to do with him being imprisoned by his own personal demons. His moral objections to his current occupation are escalating. His family life is suffering, damaged by his increasingly dangerous alcohol dependency and his sudden outbursts of anger. He’d do anything to fly a real plane again, to stop having to take lives with video game mimicking detachment.
But Egan’s in a vicious cycle of silent distress that perhaps will never be able to be undone, and that’s Good Kill’s most pertinent affirmation. Without taking sides — Niccol understands the safety preaching POV of the ethic challenging government as much as he pays attention to the effects droning has on the reluctant behind-the-scenes heavyweights doing the damage — the commentary is sharp and understatedly realized. It’s able to say much with little; its muted delivery only heightens the sense of static conflict its more emotionally numbed characters so regularly feel.
Hawke, in his third collaboration with Niccol, gives an accomplished, believably agonized performance as Egan — his man of few words hardness never stops appearing to be a bulletproof shell hiding blatant misery. As his wife, January Jones is perhaps supplemental at best — more a couple shades lighter than her years-in-the-making rendering of Mad Men’s Betty Draper — but her character’s hungering for a loving relationship intensifies the toll Egan’s vocation of choice has on his existence. Zoë Kravitz, as a young A1C, is fittingly vehement as a skeptic who sees something greater than herself in Egan, and Bruce Greenwood, as their no-nonsense superior, chills in his defeatist rigidity.
But because Good Kill is a stirring of ideas with superb performances to take it to higher ground, never to knock us out or grab us by the lapels, there’s no denying that it serves as no more than a tasty plateful to be tossed aside shortly after consumption. It’s so low-key it threatens to sift away into the darkest depths of one’s most vaguely remembered memories. But it’s intelligent and it’s well-timed; it’s weighty entertainment that rings with immediacy, and what it lacks in memorability it more than makes up for in provocation. And that’s worth something. B