‘Good Kill’ at Bowtie Criterion is Interesting to watch despite its misfires

by | May 27, 2015 | FILM & TV

The military thriller Good Kill reunites New Zealand director/writer Andrew Niccol with recent Best Actor Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke, almost t

The military thriller Good Kill reunites New Zealand director/writer Andrew Niccol with recent Best Actor Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke, almost twenty years after their first collaboration on the superb sci-fi debut Gattaca.

The film follows despondent Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke), a celebrated Air Force pilot who has been reassigned to drone duty in a remote air-conditioned Las Vegas cubicle. The new assignment is far from anything as thrilling as his previous battles entailed.

Readjusting to life back home – with a family, happy to have him away from the real dangerous combat in another country – Egan slowly grows disillusioned with his new job and increasingly disconnected from his comfortable life and his even more supportive wife (January Jones).

The brooding Hawke spends a majority of his time on screen in a funk, talking in a low register gruff, and delicately avoiding his feelings.

Egan starts to feel like he’s lost some morality along with the immense power he is given to carry out his orders for drone warfare.

It becomes complicated especially to kill the “bad guys” even if it comes to having to blow up a grieving funeral because one person present may be an actual terrorist. It doesn’t help when children run into the line of fire.

This is even more troubling to him considering he’s 7,000 miles away and it poses zero danger to him and his crew. This anonymity is what seems to the biggest concern for Egan as he starts to pine for his days of not knowing if he will ever come back home from battle.

These scenes are usually the best as they are often riveting and interesting to witness despite the reality of it being a boring job.

The relationship between Egan and his wife is perhaps the film’s biggest misgiving as we becomes less and less sympathetic to see him sabotage his marriage with a woman who is clearly trying her best, but somehow never gets it right.

Egan tries to keep his Top Gun lifestyle, from his Tom Cruise-esque pilot outfit, his American car, aviator shades, buzz-cut hair, even home to his Mcmansion and his blonde bombshell wife; he is from a bygone era of fighter pilot, with full flyboy-machismo.

On the other-hand, he seems to be sensitive and smart enough to recognize how empty this new style of combat is and just how hollow it can be. The juxtopisition of how his personal life becomes a wreck against his new, desk-jockey career, comes off like a strange critique or byproduct of internal-conflict from Niccol.

Surrounded by the desert and the glamourous lights of the strip, we do eventually see Egan spending his days more and more in a drunken stupor and distantly avoiding interactions.

While that alienation is intriguing at first, it slowly becomes tepid and disconnected. There is a lot truth to the effects of the job, but showing the downfall of a relationship coming from the angle of the drone program being a big component seems hardly fair, oddly coalesced and heavy-handed.

Jones and Hawke do have great chemistry in their roles, in that they often lack it. Seeing them sort through their troubles is intriguing even if it doesn’t always come together into something substantial.

Egan is also attracted to a younger, fellow disheartened pilot, Corporal Suarez (Zoë Kravitz), who shares a distaste for their unconventional job and Egan’s internalized anguish. Eventually they start to become closer as they both start to bare the emotional toll of it all.

Good Kill raises a lot of thought-provoking questions on how our military conducts itself overseas, our newfound war tactics, and how this era of battle impacts our soldiers.

The lack of actual fighting seems like a strange counter-point in the character’s life. While well-intentioned, smart, and forward thinking as well, the actual film’s thesis feels a little flat.

Most of the pro-drone arguments, or talking points pretending to be dialogue, come from the film’s more seemingly moronic characters. The sharpest dialogue actually comes from Bruce Greenwood’s skeptical, but dutiful commanding officer who more often than not tells it like it is and (thankfully) is not the one-dimensional cliché we often see.

It is the solid performances from Hawke and his supporting cast that carry the movie’s emotional load, overall complimenting its sleek modern day look.

Niccol does paint a very sympathetic catch-22 viewpoint of people chosen to carry out these acts while showing the unintended cycle-of-violence repercussions of it.

Good Kill is playing at Bow Tie Cinema’s Criterion theatre now.

Kyle Shearin

Kyle Shearin

Powered by coffee, Kyle Shearin is a regular contributor for RVAmag for better part of the decade. Mr. Shearin studied journalism/film at VCU while eventually graduating from the University of Mary Washington with a B.A. in English Lit. Started KCC (Kyle's Criterion Corner) in 2015. Probably likes a lot of the same stuff you do.

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