Good Kill is out this week on Blu-ray and DVD. Ethan Hawke stars as an Air Force pilot transferred to the drone program. At night, he’s dealing with his family in Vegas while conducting bombing raids in a desert trailer during the day. Set in 2010, the movie explores the psychological fallout for the men and women fighting war from a distance.
Following up on our earlier conversation with Ethan Hawke, we talked with writer/director Andrew Niccol about the drone program and the challenges it poses for the military. Niccol previous directed Hawke in the sci-fi classic Gattaca and the arms-trade thriller Lord of War.
Have you gotten a lot of feedback from military people?
I haven’t directly. I did work really closely with ex-drone pilots to make the movie as authentic as possible. I haven’t heard any specific response from military people. Ethan Hawke’s brother is in the military and he felt it was an accurate portrayal.
I tried to make it as authentic as possible because I wanted every nut and bolt in that trailer to look as authentic as it could be. Even though it’s difficult, of course, to make that cinematic.
There’s so much burnout in the UAV program. One of my military advisors said, “Yeah, it’s like a video game, except with the world’s most boring video game.” That is the issue: it’s mind-numbingly boring for long periods. You know and then there are brief moments of action and then back to waiting.
I was drawn to is kind of the ambiguity of the program because it is the most precise weapon we’ve ever had. And yet, if you’ve got the wrong intelligence, you can blow up the wrong thing very precisely. You’ve got to have the right address. President Obama was in office three days and he blew up a Taliban compound. It just happened not to be a Taliban compound.
How did you get connected to this story? What made you decide to try to tell it?
It really came out as the personal story of Ethan’s character, because we’ve never asked our soldiers to do this before, to experience this schizophrenia of war. How does a solider go to war at home? That was the first aspect that intrigued me. Normally, you would be deployed and you would go to war with a country and you would actually go to that country. Now we have people fight the Taliban for 12 hours a day and then go pick up the kids from soccer.
Some of these guys are ashamed to admit to their PTSD, because they don’t have any skin in the game. How can they admit to anybody that what they’re feeling if they weren’t in danger?
You movie takes place in 2010, when the drone program was at its peak. We’ve pulled back since then, partly because of what you’re talking about.
Right, exactly. I was on my way to New York on 9/11 on a flight that was cancelled. I fully understand how the drone program came about and what the reaction would be. You can also understand that it can get to a point where it’s overkill. I completely understand how it got to where it was at 2010. In some ways, the movie is a bit of a cautionary tale.
Getting back to the UAV pilots, you know we’ve never asked a pilot to drop his munitions and then sit and watch what happens on the ground and basically do a body count the way Ethan Hawke’s character does. They see the damage in high-def.