Towards the end of Good Kill, Ethan Hawke’s post traumatic stress riddled morally corrupt drone pilot tells a clerk that just sold him enough booze to numb his pain for one night, “We got no skin in the game. I feel like a coward. Worst thing I can get is carpal tonal or spill coffee on my lap. Have a rough drive home on the free way.”
Hawke’s Thomas Egan used to be a real pilot, flying jets into enemy territory and fighting the war face to face. These days, he sits in a closed off trailer with a few other officers, works a stick, aims, and shoots drone missiles at the bad guys and goes home to barbecue after his shift. For some cold to the bone or wanting the quick thrill of doing the right thing, the job would be a breeze. For the few who can’t shake old memories and like to crash hard internally after pushing a button and ending lives, the gig eats away at the soul.
Good Kill is the third film that Hawke and director Andrew Niccol have worked on together, after the impressive Gattaca and the vastly underrated Lord of War. One can tell the two work seamlessly in any cinematic adventure because Hawks fits this character to a tee, refusing to overplay scenes that are sitting on a tee and letting the pot boil slowly over the 100 minutes running time. He is the reason to watch this film, because there isn’t much going on that we haven’t seen before and the pacing is erratic. Burnt out soldier can’t shed the old skin of being a cold blooded killer and it eats away at everything around him.
Egan can’t see eye to eye with his commander(Bruce Greenwood, turning in more noble and fine work). He can’t help his younger officers(Zoe Kravitz and Jake Abel). He can’t be a good husband to his beautiful and strong wife(January Jones, showing a little more bite and going the opposite way of Betty Draper here). He is a lost soul and there are no happy endings for loss souls, especially in a Niccol flick(he also wrote the script).
Good Kill doesn’t cut as deep as it intends to and there are a few scenes that go nowhere and a righteous plot that closes the film which doesn’t land properly, but the movie is provocative enough to hold you. Niccol and Hawke have a good idea of where Thomas Egan stands and it’s not a morally corrupt position. His character doesn’t believe in what he does and hates the fact that he can’t face down his enemy. In the end, he doesn’t just the high road. He eats it and sleeps on it, abandoning every other soft spot in his world.
The aim is noble enough and while the target isn’t centered completely, the payoff is fair enough to leave a small dent in you as the lights come back on. As I left, the end credits song, The National’s soulful “Afraid of Everyone” really captivated me and was a wise choice for the story’s nightcap. I thought about the movie, its message and the relative impact these quiet killers have on the safety of our world today. Right there sealed the deal. Niccol and Hawke got my attention.