Anti-war war movies come in multiple flavors these days. Writer-director Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill follows a similar tack as American Sniper. That is, it can simultaneously appeal to a war-hawk audience and a peace-loving crowd in its story of a fictional US Air Force major named Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) and his assignment directing drone air strikes.
Major Tom serves at a base outside Las Vegas where he essentially decides who lives and who dies, guided by video surveillance from a drone at 10,000 feet above selected locales where the “bad guys” are, mostly in Iraq or Afghanistan. If he and his teammate spot a target and his command approves, Tom can fire a missile that leaves a cloud of smoke, and then a glowing human outline on the ground where the target used to be. After his shift ends, he jumps in his sports car and drives home to his wife Molly (January Jones from Mad Men) and their kids — after first stopping by the liquor store for more vodka. You might say Tom’s got a killer commute.
Armed forces fans can appreciate the technical savvy that allows Tom and his fellow officers to conduct warfare from an air-conditioned trailer and then kick back in a Vegas casino after work. Like Chris Kyle in Clint Eastwood’s film, Tom is very good at what he does, and at first does not question his mission. For anti-war viewers who recoil at watching these “surgical” attacks, Tom’s growing doubts about the morality of the drone program come as no surprise. Those doubts increase when suddenly (the film takes place in 2010) the CIA begins overseeing drone operations. They’re not so choosy about their targets. Something’s gotta give.
Hawke has the ideal demeanor for his role. He’s believable both as an ace flyboy and as a burnt-out button-pusher. It’s good to see Jones as something other than a miserable suburban snob, too. Filmmaker Niccol rates a good conduct award for casting aspersions at America’s most shameful military tactic. Just to make sure we get the point, in one scene we watch Tom and his family through a viewfinder set high overhead, as if they were “fly and fry” victims over there.