Blu-ray Review: Good Kill

GoodBluSTUDIO: Paramount | DIRECTOR: Andrew Niccol | CAST: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kravitz
RELEASE DATE: 9/1/2015 | PRICE: Blu-ray/DVD Combo $39.99, DVD $29.99
BONUSES: featurette
SPECS: R| 102 min. | Drama thriller | 2.35:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English, French and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

Good Kill from writer/director Andrew Niccol (Lord of War, In Time) has some interesting things to say about our country’s mechanized, antiseptic war on terror, if you can get past a preachy and less-than-subtle script. Yes, we get that attacking human targets on the ground based on sketchy behavioral patterns is bad. And controlling heavily armed drones is not like playing a “first-person shooter” game on your computer screen. Let’s get on with the human story.

That centers on Major Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood), an F-16 pilot pressed into service as a chair jockey, unleashing hell on suspected Taliban and other enemy combatants from an air conditioned cargo container outside Las Vegas. Egan desperately craves a return to the thrill and danger of actual piloting, and that’s before his targets become more and more nebulous. That desire leads him to drink – often while driving his vintage muscle car – and estranges his trophy wife (January Jones, TV’s Mad Men). Because he’s not punching holes in the sky in while piloting a Viper, he doesn’t feel like much of a man, and, well, you know.

At least the movie avoids the cliché of Egan being busted down because he buzzed the tower or came on to the admiral’s daughter or some other malfeasance. It’s a simple case of the military investing far more in remote-controlled “Reapers” than piloted aircraft. “This isn’t the war of the future,” says Egan’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek Into Darkness), “It’s the war of the present.”

Ethan Hawke (r.) attacks in Good Kill

Ethan Hawke (r.) attacks in Good Kill

Indeed, it’s Johns’ observations, mostly delivered with the resignation of a man simply following orders, that include most of the ideas filmmaker Niccol is trying to convey.

“This isn’t a just war…for us, it’s just war,” he tells his charges.

While Johns gets the best lines, Egan is on the front lines, in a manner of speaking, actually pulling the trigger and ending lives on the ground. We get to see all the accompanying guilt, inside and outside that cargo container, as well as that of rookie drone operator Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz, Mad Max: Fury Road), who serves mostly as a surrogate for the audience.

The Blu-ray disc looks terrific as it delivers two distinctive color palates: sun-bleached desert exteriors and the harsh blue interiors of the drone control box, which Niccol clearly uses to segregate these combatants from the real world outside. And Jones’ lips are preternaturally red every time she’s on screen.

The soundtrack deftly conveys both quiet, domestic dialogue and more heated exchanges between airmen, but don’t expect a test for your system. Despite the many drone-strike explosions, they are all seen soundlessly from Egan’s and Suarez’s point of view, the Reaper’s belly camera 10,000 feet above the fray.

The disc’s only extra is a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, the usual fare containing interviews with all the lead actors and the director.

Despite one of the most blatant, exasperating errors in dialogue this aviation nut has ever heard on screen, Good Kill is a diverting piece of timely entertainment that will make you think a little about the morality of prosecuting a war with no boots on the ground.


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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.