Director: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Peter Coyote
Written by: Andrew Niccol
Running Time: 100 mins
Release date: 10th April 2015
The hugely successful Clint Eastwood directed drama, American Sniper, dealt with a man at the heart of combat struggling to cope when returning to his own personal world. Andrew Niccol’s much smaller film deals with the same subject matter but not in the jingoistic manner of Eastwood’s epic, yet it still hits hard an anti-way message at the same time.
Major Tom Egan is a grounded pilot now leading a team in Las Vegas who fly drones over Afghanistan, taking out targets with precision and accuracy. He puts in an order, hoping to return to skies but even he doesn’t see much chance, as the changing face of warfare is set in stone. Meanwhile, outside the confines of the metal container he flies the drones from, his life with wife, Molly, is becoming increasingly strained and things aren’t helped by the intrusion of the CIA giving the orders.
Niccol’s film is a much quieter, more understated affair than Eastwood’s yet it has just as much gripping moments and throws up many more moral questions. This is a character study with strong political views. The opinion being that the war on terror, which can now be fought at home instead of sending soldiers and bombers, is an often futile affair, allowing the interference of the CIA to demand more deaths of innocence than the army would ever allow.
Keeping the settings simple; drone base cubicle and awkwardly looking suburbia in the middle of the desert, Niccol can allow his characters to converse, to share opinions and to watch as this war veteran slowly starts to lose his grip on his mental faculties. Drinking heavily each day, Egan battles with having to witness the senseless deaths of those he is bombing.
With a wife who is trying to be supportive but seeming to fail and a commanding officer who is having to deal with the same moral dilemmas as his troop and understanding exactly what his team are feeling, the film takes us on a hell-bent journey and often asks, what would you do?
A series of scenes involving an Afghan who is victimising a woman does come across as a little contrived, hoping to really hit for an emotional reaction, and a growing relationship between Egan and his female co-worker doesn’t quite work but these are small missteps in an otherwise confident drama.
The performances are equally understated, yet are perfectly pitched for the whole tone of the film. January Jones is allowed to show her acting ability as Molly, a woman who is slowly losing her husband and because he is so closed off, isn’t allowing her in. It’s nice to see Bruce Greenwood, usually a supporting actor, to be given a bigger role as the foul-mouthed yet understanding commanding officer.
Then there is Ethan Hawke as Egan. It’s been a terrific year for Hawke, what with Boyhood and the brilliantly underrated Predestination. Looking like a disgruntled Maverick from Top Gun, we watch as he slowly dissolves before our eyes, from this hard as nail veteran longing to return to his former glory, to a man riddled with horror and shock, watching these men, women and children being blown to pieces before his very eyes. A scene in which he is describing his working day to his wife is both poignant and heartbreaking and Hawke never goes into histrionics, instead underplaying it as if the murder of fifty people is an ordinary thing in his world.
Good Kill, which refers to a line that Egan says every time a rocket hits its target, is a much more compact film to American Sniper and will probably, excuse the pun, fly under the radar at most cinemas. It shouldn’t. This is a powerful, thought-provoking drama that has so much to offer and if you found Eastwood’s film a little too flag waving for your liking, this is antidote. Flag waving it certainly isn’t. Terrific it certainly is.