Andrew Niccol’s latest allegory is fiercely anti-drone

Good Kill frequently trades images of drones flying over Middle Eastern deserts for aerial images of American neighborhoods. The sharp comparison is a simulated “what-if,” a harrowing one designed to make a plea for empathy. Good Kill is a relentlessly cruel film, cold and disconnected. The emotional chill is essential in a film critically hammering the use of unmanned drones.

Interesting is how Good Kill makes modern war superficial. Most use sci-fi elements – helmet HUDs, electronic weapons. That’s not Good Kill. Pilots confine themselves to a box. They control things which fly thousands of miles away. They fire. They kill. A touch of enthusiasm for video game’s ability to desensitize is not only insinuated – it’s considered surface level training.

Drone kills are often crudely justified. A disembodied voice from Langley barks orders over a crackling phone speaker to pilot Ethan Hawke. The lack of humanization is devastating. So is the empathetic disconnect. Hawke does not know who he is killing. Innocents are often “in the way.” Actions are war crimes and they take a toll.

Once a decorated pilot of actual physical combat flight missions, Hawke’s character misses the danger. There is little skill or involvement when locked in a box. It’s an interesting parallel – how the revolution of war’s technology increases the burden of killing rather than relieves it – but the shtick is routine. Hawke, the ever under appreciated performer, slinks into a dwindling fragment of a home life. It forces January Jones to enact a tiresome, distanced military wife scenario. The lack of perspective and understanding is often infuriating. In Good Kill, it’s cheap and out of place in addition to other instances of casual sexism embedded in the piece.

Show, don’t tell, but Good Kill is adamant about doing both…

While Good Kill has a point, it’s ultimately too assertive. Conversations deal less with the actions at hand than they do with broader political consequences. Good Kill’s believable redundancy – taking Hawke through day after day of similar-looking, eerily quiet drone combat – is enough to make killing rote. Slather the dialog with racist barbs for clear bias, make casual lunch conversations consider the greater implications of drones, plus add muted chatter about safety from terrorism, and calling Good Kill on the nose is kind as it falls into a forcible, preachy rut. Show, don’t tell, but Good Kill is adamant about doing both even though it’s successful in merely showing.

Writer/Director Andrew Niccol’s perceptive form of dramatic entertainment is intact. His slaying of celebrity culture in S1m0ne, the brilliant writing of Truman Show, and even themes similar to Good Kill in the great Lord of War; they all connect in some way. Good Kill does too, if caught up between layers, mining for purpose in a PTSD drama, delivering a war allegory, and snapping at political actions. It’s crowded in here and eventually too lost to recover. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

Considering the reality of drones @ 1:03:48

Paramount flawlessly handles the Blu-ray end, which aside from some minuscule aliasing on a vibrating cell phone case, is transparent to the digital source. The latter is clean, offering plenty of clarity without noise. Fidelity is exquisite at times, with a few shots softening. The effect appears less a choice of cinematography than it is a touch smeary and certainly digital.

Those moments are few. Most of Good Kill is quite sharp. Facial definition is consistent. Outstanding aerials of Las Vegas create a superb contrast to the fuzzy drone camera angles. At home, the housing developments display extensive details, with individually visible roof tiles still noticeable miles overhead.

Black levels remain stable. They never reach true black, occupying a middle area which keeps them satisfying enough. Good Kill is a dour film and needs their support. Shadow details are clean.

Colors generally carry a warm slant, hitting flesh tones with a blast of orange. Inside the drone building, teals flare up. Many of the military base sequences do the same. Visual separation between home and deployment are definitive. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

None of the action is done live. It’s all done over cameras without audio. No explosions will take over the soundfield. Good Kill is hurting for anything though to give it life. Once past some overhead helicopters slipping into the rears on base, it’s dead and led by the center channel. A dream sequence near the closing act will feature a jet panning slightly through the surrounds. Engines lazily catch the low-end.

A visit to a Vegas club offers some ambient music which will fill the stereos to convince listeners they are indeed active and part of this DTS-HD track. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]

One 15-minute bonus is a bare behind-the-scenes featurette running through the characters and story. Nothing fantastic, if better than nothing. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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