June 1, 2015

'Good Kill' ... is there such a thing?

Drone strikes. It was inevitable Hollywood would take up this part of the wars the US has been fighting for nearly this entire century.

Remotely-piloted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are being flown by pilots thousands of miles away. These aircraft are equipped with very high resolution cameras and carry an assortment of missiles that are guided by lasers. (View the trailer).

Good Kill,’ directed and written by Andrew Niccol, is to be praised for its handling of this subject. It poses questions surrounding ethics, morals, and effects on the US standing in the world for using this type of warfare.

“Don’t ask me if this is a just war,” says the commanding officer of the UAV unit, “it’s just war.” It was St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century who developed the so-called “just war theory” in his Summa Theologica. For hundreds of years leaders of "Christian" nations have consulted Aquinas' theory when they faced the prospect of war.

Ethan Hawke and January Jones play a married couple living in suburban Las Vegas (although it was shot in New Mexico). Hawke is an Air Force colonel who commutes to the war every day. He drives to his base outside Las Vegas where he remotely pilots a UAV over Afghanistan, Yemen, and other areas considered threats to US interests. When his shift is over he drives home to his wife and two children.

But sometimes he doesn’t. He may take the long way, downing a few swigs of vodka. Or he may pull up across the street from a Nevada mosque after having just bombed a neighborhood in a Muslim country. The colonel tells his wife that he misses combat air missions and even dreams of piloting F-16s over the targets he’s attacking. “I miss the fear,” he tells a colleague.

But does he? Or is it that the UAV camera allows him to see the faces of those he is about to kill? Combat pilots never see up so close the destruction they release.

Zoe Kravitz plays an airman who “lights up” the target for the laser guided missiles to be so accurate. Her character asks all the tough questions about US tactics being just like the terrorists, that our strikes are making it easier to recruit jihadists.

Her questioning seems to strike the conscience of the colonel. He’s balking at following orders when the CIA starts calling the shots—literally. Watching him struggle is painful and refreshing at the same time.

The cinematography is brilliant. The juxtaposition of drone aerial video of the target villages and the high shots of the desert neighborhood where our characters live are ingenious. The crucifix on the wall above the bed in our characters’ master bedroom is prominent in many shots suggesting one or both of them have been exposed to the Christian faith.

And the wrestling with differing political and philosophical points of view among the crew makes for a must-see movie. It could either challenge or change what you think of this war on terror. Or both.

'Good Kill' is produced by IFC Films. It was released in May and is now available through video on demand.

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