There have been many critics of the drone that the CIA introduced back in 2002 during the ‘War on Terror’, as it takes the human being away from the killing, almost softening the impact of the action and detracting from the sense of guilt. But there is a man behind the machine, and it’s that very person that Andrew Niccol studies in his latest endeavour Good Kill, depicting the life of a pilot who pulls the trigger, and how it begins to destroy him.
Ethan Hawke plays Tom Egan, a dilligent worker entrusted to be the pilot of the drones, from back in Nevada he – alongside co-pilot Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) – identifies the target and then fires a missile, which can sometimes kill innocent bystanders as well as those targeted. Professional in the workplace, at home it’s another matter entirely for this emotionally exhausted man, turning to drink and arguing tirelessly with his beleaguered wife Molly (January Jones). Though if he carries on down this destructive path, his career and tumultuous home life may begin to interlink.
In spite of the intrigue connected to this narrative, making the drones seem so much more real as we candidly explore those behind the killings, regrettably the generic means of storytelling combined with a mediocre screenplay make for an ultimately unfulfilling experience. It feels inconclusive too, without a satisfying finale to round up and conclude this tale. Thankfully, however, Hawke turns in a fine performance as the lead with a nuanced display that makes for an empathetic lead – which is essential for this picture, as for all of Egan’s flaws, we need to see the human within him and invest in his journey.
What transpires is a film that brings more heart and depth to the notion of legalised killing than Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award nominated American Sniper managed, as you feel more involved in the life of a man whose job it is to kill people. However Eastwood’s artistry in the way he presented that tale, and the intensity of the combative sequences, just about gives it the upper hand – but Niccol’s effort is undoubtedly of a similar standard. The problem is, neither are quite absorbing enough.