Thursday, May 28, 2015

Good Kill

Man, sometimes you really have to go out-of-town if you want to see a movie in the theater.



That's the Vogue Theatre in San Francisco, not quite as far from Boston as you can get and still remain in the continental United States, but, yeah, a bit more of a hike than West Newton. I'm out here on vacation, finishing up with the Silent Film Festival, because I really just can't resist the first (North American) screening of the 1916 Sherlock Holmes with William Gillette in decades. Still, it's always neat to check out some of the other local places, and this was the only place in SF playing the film. Surprisingly, it's a single-screen spot, which seem more common here than back in Boston. It seems to be part of a larger group - there were posters promoting things playing at other local theaters, but that still seems like a risk with a film that's apparently also playing on demand.

It's a nice little place, and I was able to try an "It's It" - an ice cream sandwich made with oatmeal cookies dipped in chocolate - so a bit of the local snacks as well. I'll be spending the next three and a half days at the Castro, which I gather is something else again.

As to the movie, it's pretty good, as Andrew Niccol's movies with Ethan Hawke tend to be, although he hits his central ideas hard. I enjoyed it as I was watching it although writing about it tended to emphasize that subtlety is not Niccol's thing. Still worth checking out if you can find it at a theater or on VOD otherwise.

Good Kill

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 May 2015 in the Vogue Theatre (first-run, DCP)

Writer/director Andrew Niccol has never been a guy who had a problem with letting the audience know exactly what he is getting at with his movies, and that's certainly the case when he sets his movies in the recent past rather than the indefinite future. Surprisingly, Good Kill does a fair job of doing more than just preaching to the converted about the questionable ethics of drone warfare. Its measured approach may not appeal to all, but it does make the film fairly effective.

It takes place in 2010, when the American military's use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the middle east reached its height. Air Force Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) operates one from a base just outside Las Vegas, and it's wearing on him: Though he can go home after spending his day in an air-conditioned trailer, he's distant from his wife Molly (January Jones) and drinks too much. He's asked commanding officer Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood) to be reassigned to flying real planes, but that's not the way the military is headed. When his partner fails a drug test, Airman First Class Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz) is assigned to the team, and her discomfort with some of their missions only intensifies when they start getting jobs direct from the CIA.

Though Niccol allows the arguments for the use of UAVs their moments, this is an anti-war movie at heart, and like most such films, must wrestle with the basic fact that combat is more easily made exciting on-screen than the various alternatives. Fortunately, he has a good handle on where he wants to go with these scenes, not presenting them as so technical that they become tedious for the audience, but de-emphasizing what might be cool: Everything outside Nevada is clearly a computer screen even when it fills the entire cinema screen, so there are no visual effects shots emphasizing how amazing it is that a missile fired from two miles up can hit a human-sized target. Indeed, the impression given is most often overkill, and any suspense in those scenes generally comes from the worry that something horrible will happen as collateral damage.

Full review on EFC.

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