Although in his commanding officer Lt. Colonel Johns (played by a flinty Bruce Greenwood), Tommy has a sympathetic boss, not shy of questioning the wisdom of what they are doing, when the command switches to the CIA in Langley and the softness of the targets becomes increasingly obvious, Tommy begins to lose faith in his mission. Niccol populates his films with alienated individuals living in alternate realities. From Truman in his reality show suburbia and Hawke's genetic imposter in 1997's Gattaca to the class warfare of the middling In Time (2012), Niccol's imagined nightmares grasp for an allegorical potency. With Good Kill, the alienation and the out of joint reality are not some far-fetched science fiction idea, but are ripped from the headlines. His latest effort is at its strongest in the control room, recounting the kills. The language, with its formal repetition and the various laconic jokes by the more gung-ho in the room, recall the infamous video tapes of the attack helicopters killing Reuters journalists in Baghdad. However, when the film leaves the 'field of battle' so to speak and it seems to be killing time. Tommy's domestic troubles are wearyingly familiar and his resolution of them or otherwise seems trivial compared to the murder he's committing on a daily basis.
New recruit Suarez (Zoë Kravitz) is the conscience of the film, nicknamed Jane Fonda for her pains, a voice from Langley (Peter Coyote) is essentially the ghost of Donald Rumsfeld and Captain Zimmer (Jake Abel) is the Fox News-style advocate of lethal force. The commanding officer Johns swings from weary cynicism to patriotic fervour more at the behest of plot exigency than because this is what the character would credibly say. The sheer amount of debate seems highly unlikely as well. Hawke - in gravelly military mode - does his best to put some tense humanity into his role, but the twists and turns of his character feel arbitrary and though Tommy longs for a hero role, the film in trying to give him a moment ends up misfiring. When Good Kill takes aim at US foreign policy and the advances in military technology it creates moments of chilling and powerful drama, but this is dissipated and compromised by its mirror-punching domestic drama and its bizarre need to bring about something like a happy ending.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty