Movie review: Characters struggle with ‘Good Kill’

What It’s About

The eye-opening drama “Good Kill” addresses the moral dilemma of remotely killing targets during the War on Terror.

Writer-director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”) passionately explores the realities of how technology has changed warfare by focusing on drones used by the U.S. military. Efficient, cost-effective and successful, the unmanned aerial vehicles are operated by humans, whose emotions can’t be automatically regulated.

How you feel about the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will affect how you view the film, and it likely won’t sway anyone to the opposite side.

Ethan Hawke is Tom Egan, an Air Force fighter pilot now stationed in the Las Vegas desert, remotely setting off explosions and killing enemies, viewing the targets on a giant screen. An air of detachment is present, for it is similar to playing a video game. But real lives are at stake. There is damage to be assessed, and it’s messy.

Cool and calm on the outside, Tom is churning inside with frustration, wrestling with his conscience when innocents wander into the shot and can’t be saved.

Were it not for the pesky human element, cyber-warfare could be cut-and-dried, no gray areas.

The major becomes increasingly disillusioned and his personal life spirals out of control. Trouble at home surfaces with neglected wife Molly (January Jones).


Hawke, who worked with Niccol on “Gattaca,” excels as a man torn between duty, love of country and his family responsibilities.

This is a meaty character study, not merely an action cardboard cut-out. He misses the thrill of actually flying and hitting his targets, even if that would mean leaving home.

His anguish and pain, and confusion over his current plight, are palpable.

His co-workers represent opposing viewpoints — Jake Abel is a gung-ho soldier happy to be wiping out as many Taliban-influenced natives as they can get. Zoe Kravitz, Tom’s co-pilot, is having the same second thoughts, and is upset about the CIA raising the stakes.

Bruce Greenwood is effective as Tom’s superior, an authority figure staunchly defending the cyber-warfare methods. January Jones (“Mad Men”) is solid as a spouse trying to be supportive but worried about her husband’s mental state.

What Works

Smartly written, Niccol has methodically researched arguments. It’s a strong idea that presents good food for thought.

What Doesn’t Work

The script is often too preachy and the personal life problems overshadow the work issues. And they feel soap opera-y.

Yet, the juxtaposition of actual destruction in the Mideast in a sunny, austere desert setting is quite striking — and haunting.

3 stars out of 4

Director: Andrew Niccol

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kravitz, Jake Abel, January Jones

Rated: R for violent content including a rape, language, and some sexuality

Length: 1:43