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Wick's Review

Created Jun 03, 2015 04:06PM PST • Edited Jan 03, 2020 03:24PM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Really Great 4.5

    Obama’s War on Terror comes alive in Good Kill. Set in 2010, after the second POTUS to prosecute the Islamist War dramatically escalated drone warfare, it unflinchingly portrays the toll on airmen and their families from a new kind of combat in an incompetently defined war. Albeit fictional, it appears largely realistic. Thus it compares favorably to American Sniper and is arguably an even more important movie.

    Writer-director Andrew Niccol has crafted a terrific 21st century war movie: fascinating, tense, provocative and sexy. That last stems from the romantic triangle between Ethan Hawke’s tortured fighter jock, January Jones’s frustrated wife and Zoë Kravitz’s idealistic airman/hottie. Add in the estimable Bruce Greenwood as their commanding officer and Niccol has a killer cast for his trenchant movie.

    Good Kill draws its thrills and chills from the video feeds of Predator drones flying over Afghanistan and Yemen, and its emotional involvement from the personal tribulations of the crew operating those drones. The latter is especially well drawn, with vodka and extramarital temptation threatening to blow apart a family. This is high quality drama, mostly fresh and incisively drawn. Even the cliche plot angle of the sexy young colleague making a play for her emotionally troubled superior is easy to accept given the quality of the script and how well it’s played by Zoë Kravitz and Ethan Hawke.

    Such a thrilling, engaging, sexy, illuminating, trenchant movie should be a big hit or at least a cause célèbre. Instead, it’s only in small theaters with few showings. Given its importance (See my Reality commentary below for more on that.), everyone who intends to vote in 2016 should make a point of seeking it out.

  3. Really Great 4.5

    Ethan Hawke looks like a tough guy on the verge of a nervous breakdown, which is just right for playing a Right Stuff jock who feels hemmed in on all sides. It’s a largely internal performance, vulnerable in a way, and it effectively carries the movie.

    January Jones delivers another of her patented troubled housewife roles, which is a compliment even if it sounds snarky. She has limited emotional range, but suggests much depth within the range she does have.

    Bruce Greenwood is nails as the unit commander. It falls to him to deliver most of the exposition about drone warfare and the shifting sands of the Islamist War, which he does in that mellifluous baritone of his.

    BTW, did Greenwood & Jones film Good Kill on loan from Mad Men? He had a prominent role in the final season, while she was the legendary Mrs. Betty Draper.

    Zoë Kravitz jumps offscreen as an idealistic Airman First Class. Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet’s daughter has sculptural lips that Michelangelo would admire. Frequent tight upshots on her face while she copilots the drone cast her in an outstanding light. She’s certainly one to watch.

    Jake Abel & Dylan Kenin make significant impressions as a couple of meathead Air Force officers.

  4. Male Stars Really Great 4.5
  5. Female Stars Really Great 4.5
  6. Female Costars Really Great 4.5
  7. Male Costars Really Great 4.5
  8. Really Great 4.5

    Andrew Niccol’s film is perfectly modulated, with reams of dramatic cues spicing the early reels that are then paid off as the film progresses.

    His film is slightly marred by two flaws, each apparently necessary to up the drama. First is the use of predictable sexual tension between a heroic guy and a yearning subordinate. The other is the characterization of military veterans as PTSD victims in waiting. While his film does a terrific job portraying the morale-sapping consequences of poor Presidential leadership, it also perpetuates the stereotype that veterans deserve pity more than honor.

    Niccol also wrote and directed The Truman Show, Lord of War, Gattaca and In Time. Good Kill rises above those in political importance, if not in commercial impact.

  9. Direction Perfect 5.0
  10. Play Really Great 4.5

    Niccol’s outstandingly constructed screenplay includes many great moments and lines, most serious and/or heavy. Then there’s a very sexy one, uttered by Zoë Kravitz as she hands her name badge to Ethan Hawke.

    The Airman part is a bit off, but First Class is definitely accurate.

  11. Music Great 4.0
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0
  13. Content
  14. Sordid 3.2

    Good Kill provides a bird’s eye view of the horrific life that Islamists have brought upon their people. This includes the subjugation of women to the point of casual rape. It’s hard to watch, but necessary to see.

    The movie also portrays active alcoholism in a good family here in the States. This too is especially well drawn, but might be hard to watch for those hurt by such behaviors.

    Oh yeah, more than a few Islamists are shown getting blown away, with innocent bystanders occasionally getting turned into collateral damage. Have a problem with that? Read the Reality commentary below.

  15. Sex Titillating 2.5
  16. Violence Brutal 3.5
  17. Rudeness Profane 3.5
  18. Glib 1.2

    Good Kill is the most realistic fictional movie yet about the Islamist War. Unbeholden to a real story, it could have gone anywhere, yet doesn’t stray from the easily believable, not counting the redemption scene at the end, for which we can forgive writer-director Andrew Niccol his Hollywood trespasses. Importantly, his film shows how the ranks get riven when Presidential leadership is – pardon the French – for shit.

    Confusion in the ranks is understandable because President Obama has done a worse job explaining the Islamist War than the ultimately mediocre stylings of President Bush, who started off well rhetorically and militarily, then went badly wrong before executing a strategic save, yet never crisply defined the enemy.

    Nevermind President Obama refusing to use the word Islamist or such, let alone call what is quite properly the Islamist War, the Islamist War. They’re at war with us even if we obfuscate being at war with them.

    Perverted religious motivation aside, the problem is that neither Bush or Obama has crisply characterized Terrorism. POTUS 44 continues to boot it. Let’s hope the next President and the half-dozen after that do better, because we’ll be lucky if the Islamist War is only with us for another 30 years. 100 is more likely.

    Here’s a workable definition of Terrorism, Islamist or otherwise.

    • Terrorism isn’t when there are civilian casualties from a military attack.
    • Terrorism is when civilian casualties are the object of the attack.

    Collateral damage happens in warfare. Only terrorists seek it. Get it? Got it? Good.

    Good Kill is to be commended for wrestling with many of the issues surrounding the world war on Islamist Terror, with a particular focus on the Obama Administration’s strategy of Death-from-Above in lieu of Forced Rendition, killing from afar with no skin in the game instead of the dreaded boots-on-the-ground.

    Hey, I’m in favor of whatever works and drone warfare works really, really well. Hallelujah, even if it puts Fighter Jocks out of work. My main concern is the Obama Administration’s virtual elimination of on-the-ground intelligence, the kind that captured key Islamists and interrogated them. President Obama has said no, let’s blast them out of the sky instead. OK then, just don’t expect to learn much.

    The movie gives us a team based at an Air Force base just outside Las Vegas – yes VEGAS – who operate the sharp end of the spear. What looks like a video game still feels like killing to them. Good Kill is what the Hot Shot mutters after every kill, soon becoming a mantra to reassure himself that what he did 8,000 miles away was right. He lives in dread that he’s no longer fighting the good fight, that he’s a bad man.

    That traumatic level of stress gets compounded because his superiors up through the USAF, CIA and especially POTUS haven’t defined the war. Thus those who wear the uniform have no clear leadership. That leads to lots of self-medication and familial trauma, which is consummately portrayed in the movie.

    Is there a more timely or trenchant story for Americans to see in 2015? I can’t imagine what it might be.

  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.5
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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