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Good Kill on Blu-ray and DVD

Sunday, 02 August 2015 23:00 Written by 

Good Kill - out now on Blu-ray and DVDDrone warfare and drone usage in general is a very hot topic, and in "Good Kill", director Andrew Niccol ("Gattaca", "Lord of War") tries to present an even-handed tale of one pilot's experiences from behind the joystick. Ethan Hawke ("Sinister", "Training Day") stars as Major Thomas Egan, a veteran F-16 pilot now stationed in a claustrophobic tin box in the Nevada desert, remotely launching air-to-ground missiles in response to orders from on-high.

Tommy seems to be handling his new role well and he has the luxury of returning home to his stunning wife (January Jones - Mad Men, "X-Men: First Class") and two young kids after each shift. His boss (Bruce Greenwood - "Star Trek", "I, Robot") is supportive and understands the challenges involved, but then the CIA take over command and the rules of engagement become a whole lot more questionable.

In my opinion, Niccol (who also wrote and produced the movie) largely succeeds in his remit of presenting a relatively unbiased view of remotely-piloted combat, aided by Hawke's typically cool, understated performance that means we're largely left to make up our own minds on the rights and wrongs of the action on-screen.

As someone says in a bonus feature, the military language is chillingly Orwellian in its use of detached, euphemistic terminology. Instead of blowing enemy combatants up, the drone pilots engage in “surgical strikes!”, “neutralise” their targets and best of all are given “permission to prosecute” using “proportionate” force. A successful missile strike is met with the pilot referencing a “good kill”, reaffirming their actions with positive spin.

Each missile launch is subject to a ten second delay between firing and hitting its target, allowing Niccol’s characters and the audience to sweat as they wait to see if civilians are going to stray into the danger zone. There is always the option to abort before detonation but that potentially comes at the cost of alerting the enemy and allowing them to escape.

Watching pilots carefully adjust flight controls in front of banks of monitors displaying footage taken from 10,000 feet could easily become dull, but thankfully we often follow Tommy home to see how he interacts with his family, and what he and the other pilots do in their down-time. They also have mission briefings, and as you would expect, whilst their early sorties are relatively straightforward, things become increasingly fraught and ethically dubious later on.

The film is very watchable but there are problems. Firstly, the dialogue and action is sometimes very clichéd. When he gets mad, Tommy punches a mirror, and when he is caught staring into the distance his wife says “You look miles away”. “Once you see it, you don't see it”, is his rather trite way of saying you become numb to the death and destruction he is reaping.

The other issue is that although the mixing and pacing of scenes prevents stultification, there is not enough variety to really get the heart pounding. The director could have shot some action from the targets’ perspectives, although Niccol may have been intent on keeping the viewer as distanced as the pilots to prevent us becoming invested in the people roaming beneath the crosshairs, with one notable exception.

Ultimately, “Good Kill” does get you thinking about where you stand on the use of drones in battle, and questions what level of collateral damage becomes unacceptable. Fewer soldiers may be coming home in body bags, but at what cost?

Special features include:

  • Ethan Hawke interview
  • Andrew Niccol interview
  • Behind the scenes
  • Optional English Hard-Of-Hearing  subtitles

The editing and sound quality of the two interviews is a bit rough-and-ready but they do the job. The behind the scenes featurette is fairly brief but it packs in quite a lot of information and further interviews. The Blu-ray version reviewed has excellent picture quality, revelling in the glittery allure of Vegas and the shimmering Nevada desert.

“Good Kill” (2014) is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Arrow Films. The main feature has a running time of 102 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £14.99 on DVD and £15.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com