At the beginning of “Good Kill,” Maj. Thomas Egan sits at his work station, glances at his video screen, presses a few buttons — and watches bombs drop halfway around the world on people who may or may not be enemy combatants.
Then Egan, a drone pilot, leaves his trailer in the desert, hops in his car and heads back to his cookie-cutter home near the Las Vegas Strip to be with the wife and kids. Just another day at the office.
It’s a chilly, inspired sequence, and Ethan Hawke, who’s getting better with age, plays Egan with a palpable yet bottled-up sense of anguish, as his daily armchair missions take their toll on him and his family (January Jones plays his wife).
So why does this film about Xbox warfare — an excellent, timely concept with a solid central performance — fly on autopilot, instead of soar?
Director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”) is an expert when it comes to identifying and conceptualizing socially important topics ahead of their time, but he lacks a flair for drama here. The entire cast is game, but many of the domestic scenes fall flat, as do the didactic discussions between Egan and his colleagues at the Air Force base. There’s not enough of a story, and it’s a film that we end up admiring more than liking.
Still, admiration counts for something, and the scenes of “good kills” in the control room are creepy and riveting and haunting. The final frames may be the most unsettling of all.
(At Cinetopia and Screenland Crossroads.)
Rated R | Time: 1:42