‘Good Kill’ – War at a distance on AMC+ and Kanopy

Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood, and Ethan Hawke in 'Good Kill,' directed by Andrew Niccol

Good Kill (2015) tackles writer / director Andrew Niccol’s favorite theme: the intersection of technology and humanity. His problem is that his art is rarely as interesting as his ideas. The Truman Show (which Niccol wrote) works because director Peter Weir is very good with the human equation, and Gattaca, to date, is Niccol’s most successful film, in part thanks to its star, Ethan Hawke.

Good Kill is his most human film since and Hawke is back, equally committed to his role as a veteran Air Force fighter pilot downsized to drone jockey working out of a remote base in the Nevada desert. After a day of launching missiles and tallying the body count in Afghanistan, he climbs into his car, takes the freeway home, and settles in with his wife and kids in a cookie-cutter Las Vegas suburb. It’s commuter combat and the boundaries between battlefield mentality and civilian life blur.

This isn’t science fiction—it claims to be “based on actual events”—but it feels like it, with its sealed, space capsule-like remote cockpits and disconnection from the field of battle, watching the consequences of their actions on a security camera-like monitor. Just a few miles away is the gleaming Las Vegas cityscape photographed like some futuristic fantasia: Tomorrowland as the ultimate R&R distraction. When the CIA takes command of Hawke’s crew, the disembodied voice (Peter Coyote, of course) over the speakerphone becomes a black-ops Big Brother coldly ordering strikes like mob hits. Niccol’s disapproval is clear but this isn’t about combat creeping into the realm of war crimes as much as the toll it takes on the soldiers pushing the buttons on morally-questionable off-the-books operations.

Good Kill is war movie as moral crucible, where death is a movie watched on a video screen. Like the drone warfare it presents, it’s a remote drama with characters playing out rhetorical roles in a morality play.

Rated R

Also on disc and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Good Kill [DVD]
Good Kill [Blu-ray]

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The Blu-ray and DVD editions include with a featurette and an Ultraviolent Digital HD copy of the film (SD for the DVD version).


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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