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Good Kill

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Good Kill is an OK movie starring Ethan Hawke and directed by New Zealander Andrew Niccol, who also directed Hawke in Gattaca, the dumbest anti-eugenics movie ever made (beautiful but dumb). Hawke plays Major Thomas Egan, an Air Force pilot assigned to pilot drones in the “war on terror.” (Can we have the word “terrorism” back now that George W. Bush is no longer around to mangle it?)

Instead of living in a war zone, where his life is constantly at risk, Hawke lives with his hot wife (January Jones, a.k.a., Betty Draper) and two beautiful children in a subdivision in Las Vegas. Instead of taking off and landing on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier, he commutes to work in a sports car. His office is a trailer on a military base where he is part of a team of five who carry out drone strikes in Afghanistan and Yemen for the Air Force and the CIA.

Apparently these drones fly at 10,000 feet and cannot be seen from the ground by the naked eye. They have cameras with sufficient resolution to allow operators to recognize people on the ground. They carry multiple Hellfire missiles that can obliterate a building, a convoy, or a group of people 8 to 10 seconds after launch.

The movie’s recreation of drone warfare may or may not be accurate, but it is certainly dramatic and emotionally compelling. It is terrifying that people on the other side of the planet can stalk you with eyes in the sky and in seconds obliterate you and your family and your neighbors and anyone who might rush to the rescue.

The two most disturbing strikes were under CIA command. In the first, the drone crew blows up someone they are told is an enemy commander along with his house and family. Then, when neighbors rush to the smoldering ruins to render aid, they are blown up with a second missile. (They use the Mafia term, a “double tap.”)

In the second strike, a house and family are blown up, but instead of blowing up the rescuers, the drone crew watches as neighbors piece together seven dead bodies, and then, at their funeral the next day, they are blown up again along with their extended family who have come to see them off.

Frankly, I wish Saddam Hussein had such technology in 2001 and used it to pick off the Wurmsers, Feiths, Perles, Krauthammers, and Kristols who brought untold death and misery to Americans and Iraqis alike. But Saddam was clueless about the real enemy and probably would have blown it.

The movie dutifully rehearses the arguments for and against the use of drones. Jack Johns, the Lieutenant Colonel in charge, argues that drones are cheaper in terms of American dollars and lives and more discriminating about targets (and thus less destructive) than conventional warfare.

The token female non-white, Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz — who is half Jewish and about half black) offers the standard liberal talking points: the use of drones constitutes “war crimes”; it is indistinguishable from terrorism; it is a recruitment tool for terrorists. This is all true, but it is even more true of conventional warfare.

First of all, we need to separate the case offered for the particular wars we are fighting in the Muslim world from the case for drone technology in general. We don’t need to be fighting in Afghanistan and Yemen. We just need to cut our special friend Israel loose. (After sending her 6 million Jewish-American reinforcements.)

But in themselves, drones strike me as a good weapon. The drone crews agonize about collateral damage more than old-fashioned bomber crews, simply because, although they do less damage, they see it better. But if they can see it better, they can also avoid it better. No matter how terrible drone strikes are, do they really compare with the indiscriminate terror bombing of Dresden and Hamburg or Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Viewed dispassionately, drones represent moral progress in warfare.

Ethan Hawke’s character just doesn’t think drones are sporting. He thinks of warfare as a duel, and if the enemy can’t kill you back, there is something wrong with it. He wants to risk shedding his blood, and the only Purple Heart he can win in his trailer is for carpal tunnel syndrome. But of course, warfare is not a duel. We do not seek to equalize our risks and weapons, but to gain every possible advantage. But all of that is “cheating” if war is subjected to the rules of dueling.

Hawke’s crisis of conscience is supposed to seem honorable and manly, but it strikes me as weak and self-indulgent. Unable to put his family through hell with long absences in war zones, he puts them through hell in other ways: by developing a cartoonishly excessive drinking problem, having spats with the missus, and flirting implausibly with the ugly Zoë Kravitz character. Frankly, the weakest part of the film is Hawke’s character, his crackup, and his redemption at the end. And given that he is the central character of the film, I can’t really recommend Good Kill, despite the fact that it is very well-made. Like Gattaca, Good Kill is beautiful but dumb — and not nearly as entertaining.

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. Verlis
    Posted May 28, 2015 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    You are completely wrong in calling Gattaca ‘anti-eugenics’. That’s merely the meaning that Niccol ascribes to it, but the movie itself is not inherently anti-eugenics.

    The ludicrously unrealistic depiction of what a eugenic society would look like – ludicrous but unsurprising, since anti-eugenicists can’t win in a fair fight – is intended to scare the audience away from eugenics, therefore the move is anti-eugenic.

    • K.K.
      Posted May 29, 2015 at 2:17 am | Permalink

      The depiction isn’t unrealistic in the least.

  2. K.K.
    Posted May 28, 2015 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Gattaca is my favorite movie of all time; I’m straight up obsessed with it, and so I’m simply obliged to see this one. Not that I have high hopes, after reading your review, and given the fact I generally don’t particularly like Niccol’s films – with the one named exception.

    You are completely wrong in calling Gattaca ‘anti-eugenics’. That’s merely the meaning that Niccol ascribes to it (he’s indeed a political lemming by most accounts), but the movie itself is not inherently anti-eugenics. It’s a beautiful, personal story of self-overcoming, of the incredible power of the human spirit. If Niccol views its story as an argument contra eugenics, that merely reflects poorly on him. We obviously know that every rule has its exceptions, and that you can’t judge something by its exceptions.

    In itself, it ain’t any more ‘anti-eugenics’ than, let’s say, Rocky.

    • Chris Gage
      Posted May 29, 2015 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      The original screenplay for Gattaca was far more on-the-nose with its anti-eugenics message than the finished film.

      There was a bit at the end (and I think it’s a deleted scene) where it listed various geniuses throughout history and the defects they had, and it claimed that these people would never have been born if eugenics programs were in effect.

      Of course this is absurd, and even the movie itself refutes it; they still would have been born, they just would’ve have had whatever issues they had.

      Despite that, I like Gattaca. It’s well-acted and directed, and in spite of Niccol’s leftist leanings, the retro-30s future was pretty pleasing. I don’t like any of Niccol’s other films.

  3. R_Moreland
    Posted May 28, 2015 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    RE drones: I suppose it comes back to that Hegelian primal confrontation between warriors. If you’re not willing to face down your enemy, eye to eye, then sooner or later that enemy will gain the moral ascendancy over you. Regardless of the cost-effectiveness argument, remotely piloted drones remove the warrior element from combat. The drones work OK as long as the enemy is in no position to retaliate. But what happens when some low-tek insurgent with a 40 year rifle kicks down the door of the drone control room, pulls the plug on the computer, and then points his rifle at the operator?

    If anything, the use of drones and other push button weapons indicates that the System is increasingly hollow. It might take just one good blow and then it falls apart. Heck, the System can’t even deal with an armed mob like the Islamic State.

    All things to be considered in the coming chaos ahead…

    • Chris Gage
      Posted May 28, 2015 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      An insurgent with a rifle wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near a drone control room. For one it’d probably be on a different continent, and secondly control rooms have flesh-and-blood soldiers defending them.

      I’m not a believer in honor in warfare, especially between different races. One of the reasons why Germany lost WW2 is because its commanders adhered to old school Prussian values and the Geneva Convention, even refusing to follow Hitler’s commissar order, as they felt it was the no different from murder. Meanwhile the Allies raped and murdered German children and had no problem with that.

      The enemies of Whites don’t adhere to any morality when dealing with us. They don’t care about fairness or honor. Even in many wars between Westerners, one side had some kind of advantage over the other, like the English longbowmen at Agincourt. War isn’t a game. There’s not some referee standing on the side handing out penalties for bad behavior.

      As for drones, it’s no different from how the Spartans had better shields and spears at Thermopylae. Weapons are tools. Am I supposed to care about these Muslims? If the situation were reversed they’d be detonating Whites all over the place and laughing about it and praising Allah for giving them such supremacy.

      We should save honor for honorable enemies.

    • Carl
      Posted May 29, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      How are IEDs any different in a “push button” sense than a drone? Additionally, with America’s foolish immigration and refugee policies, an Islamic Terrorist can target a drone pilot’s residence, family, children’s school, etc. all while drawing welfare and gaining affirmative action benefits. The conflict which drone warfare is but a part is very real and very dangerous.

  4. Rambo
    Posted May 27, 2015 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Man that sounds like such a boring movie.

  5. Posted May 27, 2015 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

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