Good Kill is directed by Andrew Niccol, known primarily for Gattaca and The Truman Show. It stars Ethan Hawke (Gattaca, Boyhood) as Thomas Egan, a Major in the United States Air Force. He is an ace pilot, but the problem is that he’s not flying, not really flying anyway. You see, Major Egan served a number of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now he’s based in Las Vegas. Every day he gets up, kisses his wife Molly (January Jones) goodbye, drives to a nearby air base, and kills Islamist extremists thousands of miles away via drones. It seems like the dream assignment; Egan himself notes in the film that he “blew away 15 Taliban in Afghanistan today, and now I’m going home to barbecue with my wife”. But Major Egan isn’t happy, and he burns to get back in the cockpit and really fly again.
Good Kill is an interesting war movie because it comments on the new way that we wage warfare in the twenty-first century. A key part of the film is discussing how conflict has changed now that many of the people fighting it only view it through a monitor. On the one hand Egan is physically distanced from the conflict, but on the other it also has the effect of making the cognitive dissonance of war even worse; the technology that makes him safe and allows him to live a normal life also makes him feel like a coward. This is made even worse when his unit is put under the direct command of the CIA which is portrayed in a much more negative light than the military in general is in the film.
I must say I’m very interested in this new type of war film that is being developed. Good Kill is, as far as I know, the first film which deals in a major way with the introduction of drone warfare, which has so massively altered the way we conduct conflict. It goes well together with the likes of Homeland and Zero Dark Thirty in portraying a much more complex and ambiguous portrait of war than we’ve ever had before. They say that art reflects life, and so then it was only a matter of time before the age of heroic marines and suave flyboys on the silver screen ended.