Day 7 of the Alphabet Challenge, and for ‘G’ its the 2014 drama ‘Good Kill’, written and directed by Andrew Niccol (previously of Lord of War, The Truman Show, Gattaca).
The film centres on Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) of the 61st attack squadron and his small military team that are based in Las Vegas but responsible for operating military drones in the middle east. These drone are equipped with ‘Hellfire’ missiles that Hawke and co deploy at selected targets.
The military drone business is growing and government are becoming increasingly reliant on these to support actions against confirmed (or suspected) targets. The ‘pilot’s are increasingly recruited from non military backgrounds with the required skills now being more akin to computer games than flight.
The team operate out of a small metal container and control the drone, it’s weapons and cameras and complete their activities and observe locals of in places such as the Yemen and Somalia, as they go about their days.
The film follows Egan and his team as they initially carry out missions, before being seconded to support decisions coming from the CIA, who are operating with a less definitive target strategy, opting to use profiling and prediction in target identification and selection.
As the missions continue, Egan finds himself pushed further and further morally and it taking its toll on both his mental health and his marriage to his wife Molly (Mad Men’s January Jones).
There are moments in the film that are tough viewing as the reality of acting in sense of ‘proportionality’ and with ‘acceptable collateral losses’ is made very clear in the film. There’s a recognisable juxtaposition between the distance with which the drone pilots are operating, and the clarity with which the drone camera’s allow them to see the impacts of their actions.
Some of these moments, give Hawke some moments in the film, one stand out one as he recounts recent events to his wife, reflecting on the true nature of the work that he is doing.
The film is a little unsubtle at times, with members of the unit taking opposite sides of the argument for these types of attacks, with Egan both metaphorically (and sometimes) literally in the middle. The entire argument of drone warfare plays out through the dialogue with even Egan’s superior (played by Bruce Greenwood) questioning decisions with the Langley based authority. Zoe Kravitz plays one of his colleagues (Airman 1st Class Suarez) who, as the rookie in the group, serves as the physical embodiment of the audience’s reaction to some of the acts that the group are required to take.
There’s a conversation in the film where a cop asks Egan ‘How is the war on terror going?’ to which he replies ‘Kinda like your war on drugs’. You get the sense that Niccol is almost screaming his point here.
When Niccol makes a film (especially when he is both writing and directing) he has a point to make. 1997’s Gattaca (his last work with Hawke) wanted to talk about genetic science and selection, the following year he talked about the emergence of reality TV with ‘The Truman Show’. On we go up past ‘Lord of War’ (arms deals around the world) and 2011’s ‘In Time’ (wealth distribution and its imposition of a class system as a result). Much like his previous works, this film has a very clear point to make about modern day military strategy and the ‘war on terror’, and by its end, it has certainly managed to make it (and reinforced as the end credits roll with the song ‘Afraid of Everyone’ by the National).
Through his career, Niccol has asked questions of the viewer. Its hard not to come away from this film at least thinking about how you feel about drone warfare. So many films now are thinking about box office results and sequels. This film has something to say, and you have to admire that.