GOOD KILL – A Review by John Strange

By: John ‘Doc’ Strange
Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, Zoë Kravitz, January Jones, Jake Abel, Ryan Montano, Peter Coyote, Fatima El Bahraquy, El Khttabi Abdelouahab
MPAA Rating: R (for violent content including a rape, language, and some sexuality)
Selig Rating: Full Price
Runtime: 102 Min.
In an effort to save military lives, the U.S. government is flying more and more UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) over Afghanistan.  They are used for surveillance and “kill” missions.  The people who fly these craft are stationed here in the states.  The pilots are more like video game players than pilots.  In fact a lot of these men and women are recruited by the Air Force for their abilities at video gaming and have never even thought of flying outside of a flight simulator.
Not all of the pilots are gamers.  Some, like Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) are fighter pilots transferred for their abilities and temperments.  Major Egan was an F-16 pilot who flew 6 tours in those aging war birds.  He was told they were moving him to the UAV’s for a tour.  It has now been three tours and he wants out. 
His marriage to Molly (January Jones) is on the rocks because his mental state has been worn down by the work.  He is trained to fly his missions from a cockpit.  Flying from a storage container in the desert near Las Vegas isn’t what he signed on for.  He loves his wife but he lived for the thrill of the flying.  And the way he and his wife reconnected whenever he came home on leave.
Now he drives his car to work each morning, saying good morning from time to time to the policeman who likes to run a radar trap near the entrance of the airbase.  After a shift which sees him sitting in front of a terminal watching for problems or shooting missiles at the bad guys, he gets back in his car and drives home to his wife and kids.  Like most family men, he deals with his wife’s attitude, kids’ problems and barbeques at neighborhood parties.  Like too many unhappy people, he drinks like a fish.  So far, his drinking has not caused a problem at work.
When a mission’s collateral damage (dead innocents) affects his co-pilot, the young man is replaced with a new airman, Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz).  Most of their missions involve circling high above the desert and watching people.  Sometimes they wait for someone to arrive at a location and then blow them up.
Tom constantly requests that he be returned to jets and his commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood), continues to tell him no.  At home, the arguments are getting worse as Tom continues to “fly” missions that include watching innocents beaten and worse. 
He refuses to talk about his job to Molly.  All she knows is that he flies drones on missions in the Middle East, not what he has to witness.  Their marriage is slowly descending into a morass of fights and arguments as he tries to act normal but his bouts of depression are getting worse.  His depression worsens even more when the people at Langley are put in charge of his missions.
Langley (Peter Coyote) has a completely different attitude toward life than the airmen.  Lt. Colonel Johns starts sitting in with them on their missions.  (I don’t think that he trusts how Langley plans to use his personnel.)  Their missions get more and more violent with the spooks wanting the team to blow up people without regard to collateral damage.  This takes a toll on the entire team but especially upon Tom.
The film’s ending isn’t a neat package.  It isn’t a happy ending but this is a true-feeling story of the drama and angst the drone pilots are forced to deal with.  The burnout rate on our pilots is horrendous and not getting better.  As I stated earlier, the Air Force is recruiting gamers, not pilots to keep the program going.  Gamers are not good in the real world.  Once it finally sinks in that the kills are real, they are going to keep burning out.  When Tom hits burnout, he locks himself in the container alone and helps one of the innocents.  He then drives off to reconcile with his wife.
This is a raw film but one very worth watching.  It will draw you in to the pain the drone pilots feel when things go wrong.  You’ll ache right along with them as marriages are damaged by secrets that gnaw at the pilot’s hearts.  Andrew Niccol, writer/director of this story has done a great job with the film.  I recommend it even above similar war films that have come out in the last year or so.
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!
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