America's drone-strike campaign in the Middle East would seem to be a perfect win-lose scenario. It's theoretically a win for U.S. soldiers, who can fight the war from the safety of a remote location. And it's surely a loss for enemy combatants: According to figures from ProPublica, about 95 percent of targeted killings since 9/11 have been the result of drone strikes.
It's hard not to wonder, though, what killing people from afar does to a person's -- or a country's -- sense of humanity and self-respect. That's the question raised by "Good Kill," Andrew Niccol's chilling drama starring Ethan Hawke as Tommy Egan, an Air Force pilot who joins the "Chair Force" in an air-conditioned trailer outside Las Vegas and uses a joystick to rain hellfire upon the Middle East. "Good Kill" takes its title from a term of approval for the satisfying black smudge that appears on Egan's monitor whenever he pulls the trigger.
Like Chris Kyle in "American Sniper," Egan -- nicely played by a stringy, sinewy Hawke -- is traumatized by the violence of war, albeit virtual. At work, while surveilling a Taliban hideout, Egan can only watch as a local man repeatedly drops by to rape a maid; at home, Egan barely touches his wife, Molly (January Jones, a bit too ethereal for the role). When the CIA steps in as a faceless voice on a speakerphone (Peter Coyote), Egan becomes increasingly troubled by his orders. He bombs a building, then the rescuers who rush to the site and, eventually, the mourners at a funeral.
"Good Kill" doesn't have much of a story, and Niccol tends to turn his characters into mouthpieces for various views. New recruit Vera Suarez (a miscast ZoA Kravitz) sounds as left-leaning as Rachel Maddow, while Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (a salty Bruce Greenwood) provides jaundiced sarcasm. "Good Kill" blasts its targets a little too forcefully, but it also raises worthwhile questions about the queasy morality of a new kind of war.