Good Kill

Good Kill, drama, rated R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

One of the fresh op­por­tu­ni­ties for eth­i­cal malaise pro­vided by our mod­ern world comes with our gov­ern­ment’s use of drones to kill peo­ple half a world away. Here’s how it works: A team of mil­i­tary tech­ni­cians sits at a con­sole in a bunker in the desert out­side Las Ve­gas. On a video mon­i­tor, an im­age of a tar­get — per­haps a build­ing, per­haps a truck mov­ing across a land­scape, per­haps a gath­ered knot of men in Pash­tun cloth­ing — ap­pears. The tar­gets are beamed from a land­scape that’s not un­like the one out­side the metal door of the Ne­vada bunker, on which hangs a sign that reads, “You Are Now Leav­ing the U.S.A.”

Once an ap­pro­pri­ate en­emy tar­get has been iden­ti­fied and con­firmed, the mon­i­tor im­age zooms in and locks, the trig­ger­man at the con­sole pushes a but­ton, there’s a brief count­down as the mis­sile flies, and then — where the tar­get was — there is an ex­plo­sion, and the screen fills with clouds of bil­low­ing smoke. When the smoke clears, we see dead bod­ies strewn amid the burning rub­ble. “Good kill,” some­one in the bunker re­marks ap­prov­ingly. Then other fig­ures hurry into the pic­ture, dis­tant tiny hu­man be­ings rush­ing to help the wounded or claim the dead. And then, some­times, we re­peat the se­quence for the new ar­rivals. This chill­ing movie from writer-direc­tor An­drew Nic­col (Gat­taca, Lord of

War) puts this im­per­sonal weapon into hu­man terms. Ethan Hawke plays Maj. Tom Egan, a fighter pi­lot vet­eran of six tours of com­bat duty who has now been as­signed to pi­lot a drone. His com­man­der, Lt. Col. Jack Johns (Bruce Green­wood), barks the or­ders and lis­tens with weary sym­pa­thy to Tom’s pleas for re­as­sign­ment back into a real fighter plane (“I miss the fear,” Egan says). Round­ing out the crew in the bunker are a cou­ple of tech­ni­cians played by Jake Abel and Dy­lan Kenin and a fe­male co-pi­lot, Air­man Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz).

When Egan is not sit­ting at the game­like con­sole met­ing out death, he is numb­ing him­self with vodka or at home bar­be­cu­ing on the bright green ar­ti­fi­cial lawn of his pre­fab desert house and fend­ing off the at­tempts of his wife ( Jan­uary Jones) to rekin­dle their re­la­tion­ship.

Things would seem to be bad enough. But into this equa­tion slith­ers a ser­pent, in the form of a new author­ity over the op­er­a­tion. The team will now be re­ceiv­ing its or­ders from the CIA. Tar­gets will be as­signed di­rect from Lan­g­ley, now on the ba­sis of “sus­pi­cious pat­terns of ac­tiv­ity,” not spe­cific ter­ror­ist sight­ings. The or­ders are is­sued via the silky voice of Peter Coyote, and they are not to be ques­tioned, and they are not to be trace­able back to the CIA.

Nic­col is in­ter­ested in the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of the re­mote killings on the Afghans, but more so on our peo­ple, the ones deal­ing out the death. The tech­ni­cians have no prob­lem with the sys­tem. Col. Johns doesn’t like it (“It used to be, you’d go to war with a coun­try, you’d ac­tu­ally go to the coun­try”), but he doesn’t ques­tion his or­ders. Suarez grows more and more trau­ma­tized. Egan grows more and more drunk.

Nic­col’s style here is min­i­mal, with no bells and whis­tles to dis­tract from the stark topic. Hawke and Green­wood are ex­cel­lent. The story only veers a lit­tle off track to pro­vide a bit of melo­drama for an end­ing.

Re­mote killing does vi­o­lence to our con­cept of fair play, but it ac­com­plishes its ob­jec­tives with­out putting Amer­i­can lives at risk — at least in the short run. All’s fair in war, un­til a coun­try finds it­self on the los­ing side of his­tory. “It’s not a just war,” Johns sighs. “It’s just war.”

— Jonathan Richards

At the helm: Ethan Hawke

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