Since the wars began after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, the United States Air Force have been increasingly declining to use piloted aircraft to perform strikes on their targets, and more prevalently implementing drone technology, that is remote controlled aircraft which the operators thousands of miles away from the location of the attack use to fire missiles at the people they see, all the better to pinpoint the correct enemies with the minimum of risk to the American forces or the civilians who may be in the area. The results, they hope, mean fewer unnecessary deaths and more of the villains destroyed, but for one drone pilot who sits in a cabin on a base just outside Las Vegas, the job is soul destroying...
You would have thought military men and women were at least admitting killing people was part of that job, and that if there was a way to make sure nobody but the target was executed and the pilot and their fellow soldiers were safe, then so much the better. But that didn't seem to be the case, if you believed writer and director Andrew Niccol's version of events, claiming to be a true story as it depicted Major Thomas Egan, played by Ethan Hawke, as a man whose repetitive cycle of tracking the targets and blowing up from halfway across the world had deadened him to life, causing him to ignore his family and hit the bottle. Was this an accurate depiction, or are the military made of sterner stuff?
The idea that wars in the future would be fought with the technologically advanced sitting in their control rooms while their antagonist was blown to kingdom come using fancy missiles was popularised by the killing of Osama Bin Laden, where a photograph of the strike showing representatives of the American authorities, including the President, brought home how a lot of such action was akin to watching a television reality show or playing a computer game. But this wasn't the future, it had been happening for years, it's just that drones hadn't become the symbol of rampant militarism they would be later, and though Bin Laden wasn't exploded by one, the notion was a potent one.
Then the news that the Americans, along with their allies, were detonating missiles in the Middle East and Africa to take out Islamic fundamentalists who had taken to extreme violence to spread their power became oddly accepted by the mainstream, with the anti-war activists demonstrating their misgivings if not many suggestions of alternatives. Niccol implied that was what was so insidious about the appeal of drones: it made it all too easy, and in the character of Tom he highlighted the issues on what he hoped were both sides, allowing the audience to make up its own mind on how ethical any of this war was. There was one trouble with that, Tom's disintegration strongly indicated Niccol's supposed impartiality was rather more biased than he'd admit.
In Hawke's performance we got a surprisingly routine descent into stress-related alcoholism and marriage break-up, with January Jones stuck in a thankless and clichéd role as the harassed wife, and having us wondering how this couple ever got together in the first place. Hitching its wagon of war musings to the sort of melodrama that had been played out in the nineteen-fifties did Good Kill no help whatsoever, and the sexual tension between the Major and one of his colleagues, fellow drone pilot Suarez (Zoë Kravitz) went precisely nowhere, her purpose being to shed a few tears over the innocent civilians who got in the firing line. This would have been a lot better if there had been a higher degree of righteous anger, be it pro or anti, not a blandly depicted office job that was driving its protagonist up the wall (firing the missile from a plane he was flying is apparently far preferable to the impersonal touch of drones). The added subplot of the remotely spotted rapist was insultingly glib and simply present to give the hero a chance to be heroic in Niccol's jaded eyes. Music by Christophe Beck.