The new Ethan Hawke film, Good Kill, opens with a drone attack mission in progress. The way this scene begins, you could easily mistake said mission for someone sitting in a mall somewhere, targeting enemy combatants in a war simulator.
This video game disconnect between pilot and the consequences of his actions is a theme that comes up frequently in Good Kill, and it’s not very far from the new reality of modern warfare.
The film takes place in 2010, the year that featured the largest escalation of drone strikes in history.
Ethan Hawke plays Major Thomas Egan, the most experienced pilot in the quickly growing drone pilot program. He was a “real” pilot in years past, flying six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he’s still flying missions in far away countries, he’s just doing so from the comfort of a small air-conditioned command center.
The fact that he actually flew fighter jets in combat makes him a bit of an anomaly, as most of the pilots in the program have no real combat experience, and are frequently recruited directly based on their video game skills. This fact wears on him throughout the film, as he yearns to get back into the cockpit of a real jet.
Perhaps the most jarring thing for him after 12 hours of piloting missions in enemy territory is driving home to his wife (played by January Jones) and young son. It proves to be too severe a contrast from his job, and it begins to wear on his life outside of work.
And then the program is re-assigned to take on classified missions directly from the C.I.A. itself, which needless to say involves much more questionable targets. This sets the film on a whole new trajectory.
Most of the performances are top notch, and Ethan Hawke shines as a man slowly falling apart in the face of this new form of warfare that he can’t reconcile with his own feelings of morality.
Bruce Greenwood playing his sympathetic but stern commanding officer and Zoe Kravitz as his co-pilot stand out in supporting roles as well.
The film is handsomely shot throughout, and ratchets up the tension both in the cockpit and at home as the film progresses.
I did have a couple minor issues with it: It does get a bit repetitive at times with the sheer amount of drone strike scenes, conveying the conflicted feelings of the crew in having to carry them out. Also, the final few minutes feel a bit out of place, with what came before in the film up to that point.
These minor quibbles aside though, I have to say I enjoyed it very much.
Enjoyable and recommended for others to see in theaters.