The face of war continues to evolve as technology advances. More and more of the interaction, at least from the developed countries, is taking place silently and secretly. What this film tries to do is put a human face on many sides of the equation. And, though it is still decidedly one-sided, it provides that perspective so that you are forced to compare the choices, actions, arguments, and your own reactions to the “enemy” that is under observation and threat.
Good Kill, another recent drone drama, had a very similar plot. However, Sky’s approach makes it unavoidable that you question your urges as you watch, whereas Good Kill was focused more on the effect of decisions on those that had to pull the trigger… which has knock-on effects of questioning the actions and victims/targets. It makes Good Kill feel less directly philosophical, but no less powerful. In many ways, I prefer the lighter sledgehammer of the earlier movie, but both have value and something to say.
Helen Mirren (Trumbo) as the Colonel in charge, is solid as always. If Jane Tennison had been given a howitzer to hunt her killers, this is very much how she’d have turned out. She is clinical, but always looking at the big picture, even as she absorbs the horror of her own choices. Her trigger team, played by Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Phoebe Fox (Life in Squares), are a bit too raw emotionally for me. They don’t come across as credible soldiers. They hesitate too much, move too slowly. I want them to be human and concerned, but found their level of emotional reaction a bit much.
On the other hand, Barkhad Abdi (Captain Philips) who spends a great deal of the time in the strike zone, maintains a nice balance of emotion and decision. Whether this is intended as a comparison for viewers as well, or just better choices you’ll have to decide for yourself.
It is hard to discuss this film without the mention of Alan Rickman (A Little Chaos). As a farewell performance Rickman could definitely have picked worse (let us not ever forget Raul Julia in Street Fighter). He, in fact, gets one of the last exchanges, though the final exchange director Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game) saves for himself, as Paul and Fox’s Lt. The import of those two moments is integral to the point of the story, and they land well.
The script, written by multiply award winning Guy Hibbert, has impressive scope, though it does feel almost like a play or TV drama at times, which is the media Hibbert has worked in most often. Its biggest weakness is that every character is humanized in the extreme. While I certainly do not ascribe to the idea that the all military are blood-hungry fiends and politicians evil power-seekers, I felt a bit drowned in “good intentions” as it were. At least fully expressed reactions. This was as much in the script as it was in the directing. It made the action a bit less believable, though certainly more palatable. A better balance, more internalized as Mirren and Rickman accomplished, for more of the characters would have served the film better overall.
All that said, this is an impressive and disturbing look at drone warfare. For that matter, warfare in general. It asks you to question where the line is between you and the enemy and how far you are willing to go to serve your own definition of a good cause. The answers are, by design, not comfortable or easy, but they certainly should be asked.