Film Review: Good Kill (dir by Andrew Niccol)


Good Kill is an angry film that is somewhat grounded by a strong lead performance from Ethan Hawke.  Hawke was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Boyhood and … well, he probably won’t be nominated for anything for Good Kill.  The film’s coming out too early in the year and it’s not really a crowd-pleasing Oscar movie.  It’s too angry and polemical but still, Ethan Hawke gives an excellent performance.

Hawke plays Thomas Egan, an air force pilot who, after serving 6 tours in Afghanistan, is reassigned to pilot drones from a base in Las Vegas.  For 12 hours a day, Egan sits in a cramped room where he and three other pilots spend their time staring at video monitors and observing people going about their lives on the other side of the world.  Occasionally, a phone rings and they are given orders by a never seen CIA supervisor.  All Egan has to do is push a button and, in just ten seconds, he can blow up a stranger 7,000 miles away.

Of course, it’s not just the targets who get blown up.  Anyone unlucky enough to be standing nearby ends up getting blown up as well, which is something that Egan’s commanding officer (Bruce Greenwood) insists is a regretful but acceptable consequence of fighting the War of Terror.  Except, of course, nobody’s quite sure that they’re actually blowing up terrorists.  Instead, often times, it’s a matter of guesswork.  People are blown up because they could be terrorists, not because they definitely are.

While most of the members of Egan’s unit are unconcerned about the ethics or the legalities of drone warfare, Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) is an exception.  She worries that they’re just creating more terrorists.  (And yet, interestingly enough, she still follows orders whenever she’s told to blow someone up.)  Egan is troubled by the implications of what he’s doing but, for the most part, he keeps his feelings to himself.

From the beginning, the tightly wound Egan struggles with the pressure of being a drone pilot.  After spending half of the day killing strangers who may or may not be terrorists, Egan finds it difficult to spend the rest of the day with his wife (January Jones) and his children.  Slowly but surely, cracks start to appear on Egan’s facade.  He starts drinking.  He drives recklessly.  He yells at his family.  He grows paranoid about the neighbors.  When a cop asks him how the War on Terror is going, Egan smirks and replies that it’s going as well as the War on Drugs…

Even though I agreed, for the most part, with everything that the film had to say, I still found it to be incredibly heavy-handed.  There is something to be said for subtlety and Good Kill is definitely not a subtle movie.  Rabidly anti-military audiences will enjoy having their own prejudices confirmed but, with everyone other than Egan and Vera being portrayed as being bloodthirsty and ignorant, you can be sure that this film won’t change any minds.  Politically, this a political film that’s not going to make a bit of difference.

At the same time, there is an interesting subtext running through the film.  During the 12 hours that Egan spends in that room, he essentially ceases to be a human being and becomes an extension of that drone.  Both literally and figuratively, he becomes a part of the war machine.  Just imagine if a director like David Cronenberg had handled this material.  Director Anrew Niccol briefly touches on the Cronenbergian aspects of the story but, in the end, he gets too bogged down in all of the speeches.

The problem with political films like Good Kill is that they often feel very artificial and that’s why you’re thankful for Ethan Hawke’s performance.  Hawke gives a performance of such raw power that he cuts through all of the polemical bullshit.  The film is nearly smothered under the director’s heavy hand but Hawke breathes it back to life.  Hawke’s performance brings much needed authenticity to Good Kill and, as a result, he elevates the entire film.

Song of the Day: To Zanarkand (by Uematsu Nobuo)


After necromoonyeti helped rekindle memories of days, weeks and months playing Final Fantasy and listening to it’s soundtrack I thought it was only appropriate that the latest “Song of the Day” comes from that very series.

“To Zanarkand” is the theme to Final Fantasy X. An entry in the venerated rpg franchise that has been underrated since it came out in 2001. While the game never reached the sort of acclaim and fan devotion as earlier entries like Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI (I’m of the few that thought Final Fantasy VII was average, at best) this tenth entry still managed to include a soundtrack that was some of composer Uematsu Nobuo’s best work.

There’s been many version of “To Zanarkand” from the original version included in the game and the first soundtrack release to the HD remastered version and reimaginings like the one from the Distant Worlds II music collection. Yet, the version that speaks loudest to me is the new arrangement by Masashi Hamauzu (same composer whose music necromoonyeti posted about previously) for the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections.

This piano solo version takes the original song and brings it down to it’s emotional core. The other versions are just as powerful, especially the full orchestra version, but the simplicity of the piano solo conveying the themes of loss, sorrow and redemption that the game’s narrative was built on works best for me.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #96: A Simple Plan (dir by Sam Raimi)


The 1998 film A Simple Plan reunites Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton.  After previously playing adversaries in One False Move, they played brothers here.  However, it’s not just the cast that makes A Simple Plan feel like a spiritual descendant of One False Move.  Both One False Move and A Simple Plan deal with greed and violence.  Both One False Move and A Simple Plan take place in a small town where everyone thinks that they know all there is to know about each other.  Both One False Move and A Simple Plan feature Paxton as a man who turns out to be something more than what the viewer originally assumed.  Perhaps most importantly, both One False Move and A Simple Plan are meditations on guilt, greed, and community.

A Simple Plan takes place in Minnesota, in a world that seems to exist under a permanent layer of snow and ice.  While out hunting, Hank (Bill Paxton), his well-meaning but dim-witted brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and their redneck friend Lou (Brent Briscoe) stumble across an airplane that has crashed in the woods.  Inside the airplane, they find a dead pilot and a bag containing 4 million dollars.  At first, Hank says they should call the authorities and let them know what they’ve found but he rather easily allows Jacob and Lou to talk him out of it.  Instead, they agree that Hank will hide the money at his house until spring arrives.  They also agree to not tell anyone about the money but, as soon as he arrives home, Hank tells his pregnant wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) everything that has happened.

Needless to say, this simple plan quickly get complicated.  Sarah is soon telling Hank that he should not trust Lou and Jacob.  The local sheriff (Chelcie Ross) saw Hank and Jacob leaving the woods after discovering the plane and may (or may not) be suspicious of what they found.  Alcoholic Lou starts to demand his share of the money early.  As things start to spiral, Hank finds himself doing things that he would have never thought he would ever do.  Or, as Sarah puts it, “Nobody’d ever believe that you’d be capable of doing what you’ve done.”

And then, one day, a mysterious FBI agent (Gary Cole) shows up and says that he’s looking for the plane.  Except that, according to Sarah, he’s not really with the FBI…

It’s appropriate that A Simple Plan takes place in a world that appears to be permanently covered in snow because it is a film that is both chilly and chilling.  Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton are both perfectly cast.  (Thornton received an Oscar nomination for his performance.  Paxton undoubtedly deserved one.)  Bridget Fonda turns Sarah into a small town Lady MacBeth and Gary Cole, Brent Briscoe, and Chelcie Ross are all memorable in smaller roles.

(Brent Biscoe, in particular, is a redneck nightmare.)

The next time that you want to contemplate the evil that is done in the name of money, why not start off with a double feature of One False Move and A Simple Plan?