Good Kill | Film review - War is a first-person shooter for Ethan Hawke's anguished drone pilot

Good Kill - Ethan Hawke as Major Tom Egan
(Image credit: Lorey Sebastian)
(Image credit: Lorey Sebastian)

‘I blew away six Taliban in Pakistan just today. Now I’m going home to barbecue.’ Ethan Hawke’s conscience-stricken US air force major Tom previously flew fighter planes in the skies over Iraq; now he pilots unmanned drones from an air-conditioned cubicle at a military base in the Nevada desert before driving home to his wife (January Jones) and two children.

Reuniting Hawke with writer-director Andrew Niccol, 18 years after they collaborated on sci-fi drama Gattaca and 10 after pitch-black comedy Lord of War, the probing and provocative Good Kill has in its sights the collateral damage wrought by America’s War on Terror, both at home and abroad.

The greatest physical danger facing Tom and his colleagues as they remotely target suspected Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan is carpal tunnel syndrome or a hot coffee spill - war for them is now a first-person shooter, as their commander (a sardonic Bruce Greenwood) observes.

Good Kill - Ethan Hawke, January Jones

(Image credit: Lorey Sebastian)

But the anguish etched on Tom’s face reveals the psychological toll of blowing up flesh and blood, not pixels. And his anguish only increases when the CIA, chillingly trigger-happy and far less scrupulous when innocent bystanders stray into the kill zone, begins directing the team’s operations.

Niccol does rather belabour the points he is putting across, and his script is overly schematic. Tom, inevitably, is saddled with one callously hawkish and one dovish colleague, played by Jake Abel and Zoe Kravitz respectively.

Visually, however, his film does hit the target. The drone’s eye view of the attacks feels shockingly authentic, while overhead shots of Tom’s desert home – strikingly similar to the Taliban compounds 7,500 miles away – reminds us that these antagonists are closer than they think.


Certificate 15. Runtime 98 mins. Director Andrew Niccol.

Good Kill is released on Blu-ray & DVD by Arrow Films.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.