Review: Good Kill

“Keep compartmentalizing” is a piece of advice from a commanding officer to his ace pilot. This is darkly humourous, intelligent screenwriting because these drone-piloting soldiers spend 12 hours a day literally inside a box, albeit an air-conditioned one filled to the brim with technology, with fresh coffee available if needs be.

A day of drone warfare fought, the service men and women leave the base and go home to BBQ with their family and drink beer in the nearby Las Vegas suburb, a pebble-lawned stretch of cookie cutter banality not far away from the dazzling gratuitousness of The Strip. Things go from grim but necessary to deeply disturbing slowly but inevitably, and often didactically, in Good Kill.

The film focuses on Major Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke), a former F-16 pilot and a veteran of many tours. He is now ‘grounded’ in the tiny box on wheels enacting a play-station war; one of low risk of physical harm (barring carpal tunnel syndrome) on which he compensates by making the damage 100% psychological. Egan’s icy disposition and years of experience make him one of the current top performers in piloting drones.

Hawke’s performance is miles apart from his life-long work with Richard Linklater, not to mention as different as possible from the testosterone meathead cinema-depictions of fighter pilots in thrill oriented blockbusters like Top Gun and its numerous copy cats. Egan ignores the gung-ho nature of the two tech support co-workers, the young guys that keep the communications to the remotely piloted aircraft humming along. Egan is quietly respectful of the competence of his equally young female co-pilot (Zoë Kravitz) while carrying out any order from his commanding officer (Bruce Greenwood, who gets all the good lines and let’s face it, is a national goddamn treasure).

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A Game of Drones – Trailer for Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill

Will Andrew Niccol’s latest capture the imagination and box-office in a similar fashion to American Sniper? On the surface, both films share a number of commonalities, not the least of which are soldiers having to kill their enemies from afar, with a certain unquestioning detachment. Niccol has made a career out of questioning the emotional and psychological significance of where we are and where we are going in terms of technology and its applications; from the sci-fi genetics drama Gattaca (also starring Ethan Hawke) to synthetic actors in S1Mone, to his screenplay for Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. Here he gets to play in the theater of the current Middle East and drone warfare. I think Good Kill will be better than American Sniper, but likely ignored by the public at large due to a falsely perceived copy-cat-itis.

In an air-conditioned shipping container somewhere in the Nevada desert, a war is being waged. Behind a door that reads “YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE USA,” five flight-suited US Air Force officers operate drones that hover above “zones of interest” in the Middle East. At the press of a button, tiny targets viewed on computer screens vanish in plumes of smoke, as in a videogame. Egan (Ethan Hawke) used to live to fly. Now, he spends eight hours each day fighting the War on Terror by remote control and the remaining time at his suburban home, where he feuds with his wife (Mad Men’s January Jones), and numbs his boredom, rage, and guilt with alcohol. When Egan and his crew are told to start taking orders directly from the CIA — which selects its targets based not on personal profiles but patterns of activity — the notion of a “good” kill becomes even more maddeningly abstract, and Egan’s ability to comply with his superiors’ directives reaches its breaking point.

We’ve got the trailer below.

Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Buried

2010 USA/Spain/Frane. Director: Rodrigo Cortés. Starring: Ryan Reynolds.

An extreme form of one-room film, with the whole thing set in a coffin buried somewhere underground. Ryan Reynolds carries the film admirably as an army contractor who gets taken hostage and buried alive with just a cell phone and a few other items, with the intention that he will get a sizeable ransom from the US government for his release. As we know, the US government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, leaving Reynolds hoping that the dispatched search and rescue team will find him before his air runs out. The film ratchets up tension admirably, keeping the audience engaged through 95 minutes of basically nothing happening except a man talking on a phone. There are nitpicks to be made, and I do wish there had been some better explanation for why he didn’t try to dig out through the obviously loose and relatively shallow dirt above him, but for the most part, it’s pretty effective as a tight-space thriller.
– JANDY

Netflix Instant (USA)

Gattaca

1997 USA. Director: Andrew Niccol. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman.

While Gattaca did not fly quite as far under the radar as The Man from Earth or Dark City, I cannot help but feel that it remains incredibly underseen and underappreciated. It is generally regarded as a strong film, to be sure, yet I would argue that it is among the greatest sci-fi films ever made. Nimbly toeing the line between the bleak and hectic Blade Runner and the philosophically draining The Man from Earth, Niccol’s universe not only feels realistic – it feels possible … if not probable. The physical presentation of the world is bleak, yes, but it is also vibrant and alive, crafting a future that is advanced, but not so advanced so as to be a distraction. This, of course, ignores the tremendous turns of Ethan Hawke and Jude Law, whose relationship is organic and beautiful. Uma Thurman is undoubtedly the weak link in the chain, but that may be as much a product of her underutilization, if not a side effect of the brilliance of most everything else.
– DOMENIC

Netflix Instant (CANADA)

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Andrew Niccol Takes on Stephenie Meyer’s The Host

TheHostBookCoverNot surprisingly, yet another Stephenie Meyer property is being adapted for the big screen. I know what you’re thinking: more sparkly vampires? Luckily (or unluckily depending on which side of the fence you are on) this has nothing do with vampires.

In the same year that she published “Breaking Dawn,” the completion of her “Twilight Saga” series, Meyer also released her first adult novel, a science fiction novel titled “The Host.” An Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets romance tale, it’s a story set in a near future where earth has been invaded by a parasite. In an effort to rid the planet of the last few humans in hiding, the parasite fuses itself with a dying girl in an attempt to gain access to memories which will lead them to the last pockets of human resistance.

The novel marked a surprising turn for Meyer whose writing showed marked improvement and though the story is interesting, it’s not nearly as compelling as her “Twilight Saga.” Now for an admission that may likely revoke my Meyer fandom all-access-pass: I am not simply a mild supporter of the novel, I didn’t even finish it. Not for complete lack of interest but at the time of its release, I couldn’t get my head into the story and left it partway through. Even so, it was clear from the first few pages that this was a step forward for Meyer’s work. But we’re not so concerned with the writing here since the story is what has sold the rights and the truth of the matter is, it has potential.

Daily Variety reports that The Host has not simply been picked up but already has a writer and director attached and it’s none other than Andrew Niccol. Yes, the same Andrew Niccol who wrote and directed Gattaca, Lord of War and the upcoming The Cross (for which we recently posted some beautiful concept art).

Promising news? Indeed. Put aside your “Twilight” prejudices for a moment and take in the fact that Niccol is excellent at near future sci-fi and if nothing else, Meyer can weave a captivating yarn. I’m taking “The Host” off the shelf and giving it a read through in the next few weeks. Now I really can’t wait to see how it ends.

First Look at Andrew Niccol’s The Cross

TheCrossMovieStill

Few filmmakers make an entrance the way Andrew Niccol did. Gattaca may not have broken box office records but the film was widely loved and for me, remains one of the most beautiful and favourite films about the near-future.

Niccol hasn’t exactly been slipping but his offerings since that 1997 classic have been few. I found S1m0ne a miss but loved Lord of War and yet, I found myself hoping that perhaps Niccol would return to sci-fi. My hopes were lifted when earlier in the year it was announced that he was working on a new project, a sci-fi project titled The Cross about “a man seeking to cross a mysterious border, something no one else has achieved.” Vague stuff but intriguing none the less.

The film starts Orlando Bloom in the lead as the man on the run and the fantastic Vincent Cassel as the guard every foiling his plans. Olga Kurylenko also stars in the film likely as some sort of love interest. The original announcement of the project was very vague but our good friends at Quiet Earth have uncovered both an expanded synopsis for the film and some concept art.

First up, what’s it about?

Mylar (Bloom) and his younger brother Castro come to a town to cross the border in search of a better life. The two travelers, full of hope, all too quickly realize that their journey leads them to an inescapable world full of doom. The enigmatic border is strictly enforced under the command of a guard, Guideon, who prohibits anyone from ever leaving. Castro doesn’t make it alive past two weeks, but Mylar defies all odds and becomes the first to successfully cross the border. And he also becomes the first to come back… all for the love of a woman, Vera. Mylar must now devise a plan not only to set himself free, but all of his fellow citizens as well. But perhaps crossing the border is not the answer. Perhaps the key lies in altering the border and whatever it may represent…

If it sounded promising before, it sounds even better now and taking a look at these images, I can’t help but get all giddy.

Images tucked under the seat!

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