Easily one of the most underrated and least appreciated writer/directors of the 21st century, Andrew Niccol has made six features and all but one of them (“The Host” where he was a hired gun) couldn’t be considered a financial and/or critical success.
#He broaches subjects that aren’t quite taboo (but are always straddling the line) and he NEVER tells the audience what to think. He’s a provocateur and a rebel and in this day of over guarded, micro-sensitive industry oversight, that’s saying quite a bit.
As far as timely, current or dead-on-the-mark is concerned, Good Kill — like most of Niccol’s films — is way ahead of the trending societal/political curve. As with “American Sniper,” it is neither pro- nor anti-war and presents a complex, divisive conundrum for the audience. It’s also the first live-action U.S. movie tackling war strategies originating with the Obama administration.
#For his third collaboration with Niccol, Ethan Hawke (“Gattaca,” “Lord of War”) stars as Major Thomas Egan, a pilot and veteran of multiple tours of duty in the Middle East who, for reasons never fully (or wisely) explained is now stationed in Las Vegas where he lives off base with his family. For any active duty soldier this would be a dream gig. Egan puts in little more than banker’s hours, goes home every night to the warm embrace of his gorgeous wife Molly (January Jones, turning in a modern day version of her “Mad Men” character) and two beautiful but not quite well-adjusted children.
#In addition to short hours and sleeping in his own bed, Egan is still doing what he did in Iraq and Afghanistan, albeit while at a desk in front of multiple TV screens, computers, switches and a high-end joy stick. Along with four others, Egan uses satellites to locate high-level enemy/terrorist combatants and with clinical precision via drones, blows them into isty-bitsy teeny-weeny pieces.
#Egan’s commanding officer is Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood), a grizzled, regular army guy in his 60s who loves the old days, is fond of profanity, keeps a bottle of Scotch in his desk and realizes far better than Egan, the direction of modern warfare. In theory, he gets that keeping men like Egan stateside with their loved ones while still utilizing their innate skills makes sense on a multitude of levels. It costs less, gives them a feeling of normalcy and takes them out of harm’s way.
#Why wouldn’t any soldier envy this kind of assignment? In Egan’s mind he’s no longer a soldier but rather a glorified button-pusher. He thinks a monkey could do his job and he might just be right. It’s clear from the start Egan wants to go back to the Middle East and presses Johns for a transfer which is met with obligatory patronizing. Johns says he will try (actually he won’t) and tells Egan he doubts anything will change.
#Egan’s frustration manifests itself with increased drinking, the shirking of his duties as a husband and father and an almost deliberate effort to be less productive. For two of Egan’s younger male troop members none of his behavior makes sense, but it is with the arrival of a new female (Zoe Kravitz as Airman Vera Suarez) that Egan finds a quasi-kindred spirit.
#This is also when the kill orders stop coming from the military brass and instead directly from the CIA — appropriately represented by a disembodied voice delivered with icy, emotional detachment by the note-perfect Peter Coyote as “Langley.”
#The final act of the film is set almost exclusively in the army base trailer housing the soldiers and their equipment, and Niccol turns all of it into a claustrophobic, airless vacuum. Recalling early era Stanley Kubrick with its clinical stillness and business-like air, Niccol is making an observation that war from a distance and without the sounds of bombs and screams is still war and can still have adverse effects on the soldiers carrying it out. For vets like Johns and Egan — and the relatively fresh optimism of the untested Suarez — operating on hunches and politically questionable intelligence is not what they signed up for.
#It was also more than likely that Niccol wanted to create a moral and ethical quagmire with the characters — and by proxy, the audience — and he more than succeeded. You don’t train men and women to adhere to a strict code when taking out the enemy and then change the rules in mid-engagement and certainly not with such nebulously blurred, off-grey directives.
#For anyone familiar with knowledge of how and why police and the military might have situations to use the term “good kill,” you’ll be aware going in and (hopefully) the rest of the audience will understand when leaving. It is a phrase brought up only under the direst of circumstances and makes the jobs of those who we ask to protect us all the more needlessly difficult. These brave men and women should never have their motives or actions questioned. If anyone deserves such scathing scrutiny, it should be those on high, wanting no blood on their own hands while doling out their orders. (IFC)
Via: Gwinnett Daily Post