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Ethan Hawke is a conflicted fighter pilot in Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill

Ethan Hawke is a conflicted fighter pilot in Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill

Posted by Juan Gavasa on September 11, 2014

Andrew Niccol can remember a time when U.S. involvement in Iraq included televised media briefings in which Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf would show video clips that demonstrated the accuracy of so-called smart bombs. Then, they were launched from piloted aircraft. Now they’re as likely to be fired from unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

“Now that picture is a lot better, and there is obviously video for every one of the drone strikes,” he says. “But you haven’t seen one recently, have you?”

Ethan Hawke jumps in at this point. “Nobody has,” he says darkly. “They don’t want you to see this.”

Hawke is starring in Niccol’s Good Kill, which had its North American premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival after screening in Venice. The actor plays Maj. Thomas Egan, a former fighter pilot who now flies unmanned drones from a military base outside Las Vegas. His control bunker looks a bit like a shipping container from the outside, boxy and portable.

 “The reason is that they used to wheel them into a Hercules and fly them around the world,” says Niccol. “But then realized they didn’t have to go anywhere; they had satellites.” Hawke’s character kills enemies in Afghanistan from half a world away, but struggles with the moral implications of such precise, emotionless combat.

The cinematography in Good Kill calls attention to the similarities in geography between the U.S. and Afghan deserts, and the walled residences that exist in both locations. “It’s not my choice; it’s the military’s choice,” says Niccol. They can train drone pilots locally over terrain similar to what they’ll see while on duty.

“If you’re going on a weekend trip to Vegas in your car,” he adds, “you may not know it — in fact you won’t know it — but they’ll follow a car with a drone just as practice.”

Good Kill airs both sides of the debate over unmanned drone strikes — on the one hand, it risks fewer American lives; on the other, it risks dehumanizing war — but it’s clear on which side Niccol and Hawke stand.

“Say what you like about the United States,” says the New Zealand-born Niccol, “but you’re allowed to make that movie. Some people are going to hate it and think it’s unpatriotic, and some people are going to love it, but if it causes some kind of debate — great.”

“That’s the point of making a movie like this,” says Hawke, “is to not let all this stuff happen in our name without us having any awareness or knowledge or interest in what’s being done.”

He likes the idea of a war film “that isn’t glorifying the past; something that shows us where we are right now. The troops are going to withdraw from Afghanistan, but the drones won’t leave.”

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