Drones are a hot topic at this point in time, so it’s hardly surprising that they are making their way onto the big screen. Good Kill follows the life of a drone pilot, someone who gets to stay at home in beautiful old America and conduct his business from an air-conditioned booth in Las Vegas. Sadly, being away from the actual conflict zone doesn’t mean that the war’s effects are any less real.
The drone pilot in question, Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke), has the perfect life, at least on the surface. He has done six tours as a pilot in the US Air Force and has now been put on drone duty. He gets to continue his job, but now he gets to go home at the end of the day and spend his evenings holding BBQs with his gorgeous wife and two children. To the rest of the world he has it made, yet he doesn’t see things that way. Stuck in his air-conditioned box he begins to develop post traumatic stress, particularly when they get taken on by the CIA to conduct missions which he and his flight partner, Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz), are dubious of, in pretty much every moral way possible.
Good Kill does something that most people probably haven’t considered, it puts a face on the people behind the drones we all have heard so much about. It makes you feel sorry for them and it gives the impression that they are as aware of the moral problems behind their job as we are. Ethan Hawke plays a big part in that. His slow unraveling and disappearance into his own head is subtly, but brilliantly done. He gets across the idea that no matter how good your life might seem on the surface, it’s whats going on underneath that really matters.
He’s also backed up by a good supporting cast. Whether it’s Jake Abel and Peter Coyote as two of his coworkers, who see the world in a simple black and white, America versus the rest or his boss, portrayed by Bruce Greenwood, who represents a man who understands this world isn’t right, but at the end of the day has a job to do and knows that as one man, there is nothing he can do about it. Finally, Zoe Kravitz provides the moral compass, the one who quietly cries every time they are asked to fire on innocent people. There’s no denying that the characters are broad strokes, people defined by their view on what they do, rather than anything deeper than that, but it works. These people are crammed into their ridiculous little booth and when they are inside it the whole world revolves around their relationship and the tensions that grows between them. They are simple characters, but in that world they work.
That world is also probably just as important as the characters inhabiting it. From the poster on the door, which proclaims you are ‘now leaving America’, to the dimmed lighting, it feels like its own personal spot of hell. Then there are the hours of watching that are shown. The group have been assigned to keep an eye on a compound, looking for one specific target and with the people miles below their drone, unaware of what is going on, they begin to feel things for them. One women in particular, who they view working hard and interacting with her child, draws their sympathy and yet they have to just sit back and watch as a man comes and rapes her on a regular basis, as one character says, ‘he’s a bad man, but he’s not out bad man.’ It adds an extra edge to this hellish world, one where they are required to kill supposedly bad people, but where it often feels like the baddest ones are left alone.
As Egan goes off the rails it is hard not to sympathise with him and the film easily avoids the jingoistic pitfalls of American Sniper. It becomes a fascinating look at the world behind the drones and while it doesn’t always knock it out the park, it still creates a world where these guys who are so commonly vilified, come across as real human beings with real lives and real troubles.