Good Kill: The Most Authentic Modern Warfare Thriller in Years [Blu-ray Review]

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From director Andrew Niccol (Lord of War) comes the ultra realistic modern warfare thriller based on real events – Good Kill. Starring Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Bruce Greenwood and Zoe Kravitz, the film is available on demand and Blu-ray September 1st.

 

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A Las Vegas-based fighter pilot turned drone pilot fights the Taliban by remote control for 12 hours a day, then goes home to the suburbs and feuds with his wife and kids for the other 12. But the pilot is starting to question the mission. Is he creating more terrorists than he’s killing? Is he fighting a war without end.

The Movie

We’ve all heard about drones. Unmanned air vehicles operated by soldiers on the other side of the world – blowing up terrorists with the push of a button. Is it really that simple? Yes and no. Good Kill explores the day to day routines of a former airforce soldier turned Drone operator and the struggles that come with fighting the war on terror through a tiny monitor all day, then going home to a backyard BBQ after having just killed a dozen or so Taliban soldiers with a missile. There’s a great scene in the liquor store where the clerk asks Ethan Hawke’s character if his pilot uniform was real to which he replies that he had just finished taking out several Afghanistan soldiers earlier that day. The clerk laughs, says “yeah right”, and Hawke drives home hating life. That sort of thing happens to these dudes. A lot.

Bruce Greenwood steals the film, playing Hawke’s commanding officer. The speech he gives new recruits about drone warfare is brilliant. He’s both self demeaning because he knows that these kids were recruited in mall arcades, he knows that they built the software from the same stuff used in an Xbox, he knows that the new fight is being fought just like a first person shooter, but he also knows that this isn’t just a game – because they are “killing” people. He believes in his own shit even if he doesn’t like it. Both he and Hawke long for actual battle over the push of a button in some sweaty ass bunker on the outskirts of Las Vegas, but they realize how important what they do truly is with drones outselling the production of manned military aircraft.

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It takes some getting used to watching the major action setpieces unfold on a soundless monitor with a targeting reticule on it, but that’s just 100% authenticity. Director Andrew Niccol based Good Kill on real events and he used actual drone pilot consultants in order to nail everything down to the finest detail – including the process and equipment these soldiers use. The film constantly produces questions on whether drone warfare is just as bad as the terrorists who are a danger to the US and it certainly doesn’t put a shining light on the CIA, who come off as bloodthirsty maniacs that give no shits about civilian casualties.

Hawke plays a man suffering from PTSD but more than anything someone who is confused on how he is supposed to be feeling because of what he does for a living. He kills people every day then goes home to his wife and kids. Acting normal isn’t in the cards for this guy who knows from his actual battle experience, that his actions at that control panel have massive consequences while some of his co-workers have less trouble separating themselves from the emotions of dropping a bomb in a crowded town where shrapnel can hit innocent people nearby.

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The film is paced well and is extremely interesting to someone like myself who has limited interest in the military suspense genre of film. You don’t have to care about drones in order for Good Kill to MAKE you care about the subject matter. By the end it’s up to the audience to decide if we are better off with or without drones and that might be my problem with the story. It feels very fragmented at times, not knowing if the core of the tale is about Hawke trying to get away from his new job, return to his old one, repair his family or justify the existence of the drone pilot. It was a little hazy for me but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective in posing all of these questions. Good Kill is one of the most authentic movies about modern warfare in years and one that should not be missed.

The Special Features

I was skeptical and slightly let down when I saw one lonely bonus feature included on the disc. Usually when we get this ‘making of’ it tends to be a tacked on, five minute commercial for the movie we just watched. Not the case here – I was very happy with the making of featurette on Good Kill. We get a good dose of behind the scenes commentary from all of the cast and crew as well as some insight into the real world of drone warfare. Director Andrew Niccol brought on a couple actual drone pilots to consult on the set design and everything else, to which these guys who were interviewed said everything was 100% authentic down to the color of the buttons on the control panel. I love that they paid so much attention to detail.

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