Film review: Good Kill (15, 100 mins)

Good Kil: Bruce Greenwood as Colonel Jack Johns and Ethan Hawke as Major Thomas Egan.
Good Kil: Bruce Greenwood as Colonel Jack Johns and Ethan Hawke as Major Thomas Egan.
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No ground control to this Major Tom

To win a war in this age of hi-tech weaponry, governments still have to be prepared to sacrifice – or murder, depending on your point of view – good men and women in the name of freedom.

There is no hard-fought victory without heartbreak on both sides of a conflict; for soldiers on the front line and the nameless civilians, whose deaths are mourned as collateral damage.

America’s use of drones during the war on terror has divided opinion.

On the one hand, these remotely-controlled craft can deliver devastating payloads with precision and if a drone is shot down, the pilot is safely back on home soil, witnessing the crash on a computer screen.

One less coffin to emerge from an aircraft carrier, draped in the Stars and Stripes.

However, conducting war with joysticks using soldiers, who have been recruited at video-gaming conferences and have never experienced active duty, warps the moral fabric of combat.

Do you bear the same weight of responsibility for pulling a trigger when your unsuspecting target is thousands of miles away and can’t retaliate?

Good Kill is a provocative drama written and directed by Andrew Niccol, which probes the emotional strain on Air Force drone pilots and the ethical quagmire that engulfs them every time they follow orders.

Niccol’s film unfolds in the Nevada desert, where commanding officer Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood) welcomes new recruits to his outfit.

“War is now a first-person shooter,” growls Johns.

“It’s not a bunch of pixels you’re blowing up. It’s flesh and blood.”

Major Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) is one of few at the base who has actually taken to the skies, and he hankers for a return to the cockpit rather than sitting in an air-conditioned crate, staring at the enemy through a lens.

His wife Molly (January Jones) and daughter Jesse (Sachie Capitani) get to spend precious time with him in their picket-fenced home but mentally, Tom is thousands of miles away.

The arrival of a new co-pilot, Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz), has a profound impact on Tom as he wrestles with his conscience and the repercussions of his actions.

Good Kill is a clinical 
thriller that spares the bombast and treats each deployment of drones with cold detachment.

Sequences of aerial bombing are realised in pristine fashion.

Niccol muddies the dramatic waters by having his characters witness a rape inside an enemy compound on their screens, which they cannot stop.

This horrific assault lights the fuse on the film’s increasingly fraught final act as Tom’s mental state finally fractures and the horrors of war spill out, infecting everyone around him.

Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Jake Abel, Bruce Greenwood, Sachie Capitani, Dylan Kenin, Stafford Douglas. Director: Andrew Niccol.

Released: April 10 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Drama/War/Romance

Star rating: 7/10