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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Good Kill movie review: American droner

Good Kill yellow light

There are important issues running through this, but the film forgets to be sufficiently engaging in the course of being Significant.
I’m “biast” (pro): like Andrew Niccol…

I’m “biast” (con): …though he keeps failing to measure up to his earliest work

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s desert warfare, but not as we’ve known it. From a room in the sands of suburban Las Vegas, drone pilots kill people in different deserts half a world away. It sounds like science fiction — and given that Good Kill is from writer-director Andrew Niccol, of The Truman Show and Gattaca and The Host fame, you might be forgiven for thinking that that’s what it is. But this is based on reality; in fact, it’s set half a decade ago, in 2010. Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke: Boyhood) is a former combat pilot now pulling joystick duty in a military that fights war as “a first-person shooter,” as his boss, Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood: Endless Love), describes the job. Tom would prefer to go back to flying for real, but this is what combat is now, so he is stuck having to see up close the people he is killing; they may only be on a screen, but he cannot deny what he’s done when he witnesses, for instance, children accidentally caught in a drone strike that he pushed the button on. So he goes home and yells at his wife (January Jones: X-Men: First Class) and drinks too much. There are important issues running through Good Kill, but the film forgets to be sufficiently engaging in the course of being Significant. The underscoring of the social and personal disconnect that comes when a soldier can be in a combat zone during the day and home in time for a cozy family dinner at night is unsettling. But the intense moments are few and far between. This feels like a 30-minute short ineptly padded out to a feature runtime.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Good Kill for its representation of girls and women.


yellow light 2.5 stars

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Good Kill (2015)
US/Can release: May 15 2015 (VOD same day)
UK/Ire release: Apr 10 2015

MPAA: rated R for violent content including a rape, language, and some sexuality
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, sexual violence, sex)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    So basically most of the film is already in the trailer, only longer?

  • Pretty much!

  • Robin

    The logical evolution of drones, at least for surveillance, will eventually make them so small they’ll be invisible.

    That may explain why we don’t see any evidence of alien life or technology. They could be nano-size, so small they might be right in front of your nose and you’d never know. Nano-sized drones that could ‘phone home’ to their alien world would also have the benefit of having very little mass and therefore much easier to accelerate to interstellar speeds.

  • so small they might be right in front of your nose and you’d never know.

    At least until their battle fleet is swallowed by a small dog.

  • Robin

    Sorry, something gave me the idea you had a broader perspective.

  • Yes, imaginary aliens could do almost anything.

    I have wonderfully broad perspective: I enjoy science fiction as much as you do. (Though I guess you missed the fact that my reply to your comment was a reference to *The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.*)

  • LaSargenta

    However, also a logical point would have to be ‘for what purpose’? I mean, yeah, of course, sufficiently advanced tech could have such things; but, what would be the purpose? In our human cases, we use them primarily for war and the approach of war (surveillance) against and between groups of all kinds.

    Of course, too, there’s loads of ‘what if’s’ that could be pulled out of the magic bag to explain why, but that would need a big story that has nothing to do with this actual story being reviewed.

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