Friday, September 5, 2014

GOOD KILL Gets my Vote - Best Film at 2014 Venice Film Festival

Ethan Hawke in GOOD KILL
(Venice, Italy) "Good Kill" by Andrew Niccol would win the Golden Lion, if it were up to me. I don't know what the odds are of that happening, since it is the last film in competition to screen, and the critics and the audience already seem to have made up their minds, the critics rooting for "The Look of Silence," the documentary by Josh Oppenheimer (which was also my favorite before I saw "Good Kill"), and the audience for "Birdman" by Alejandro G. Inarritu.

But the Jury, headed by the famed French composer Alexandre Desplat, is still out, and with actors as diverse as Tim Roth and Joan Chen on the panel, as well as Pulitzer Prize winning-author, Jhumpa Lahiri, we cannot predict how they will decide. The esteemed members of the 2014 Jury of the Venice Film Festival have won and/or been nominated for so many Academy Awards and other prestigious honors that I can't even begin to tally them all.

Alberto Barbera, Director (left) Alexandre Desplat, President of Jury - Variety party at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
Members of the International Jury of Venezia 71:

Alexandre Desplat (President) - French film composer
    Joan Chen - Chinese and American actress, screenwriter and director
    Philip Gröning - German director and screenwriter
    Jessica Hausner -- Australian film director and screenwriter
    Jhumpa Lahiri - India American author born in London
    Sandy Powell - British costume designer
    Tim Roth - British actor, screenwriter and director
    Elia Suleiman - Palestinian film director and actor
    Carlo Verdone - Italian actor, screenwriter and director

Ethan Hawke and January Jones
"Good Kill" moved me deeply; I wept throughout much of the movie. It is a powerful depiction of a F-16 fighter pilot played by Ethan Hawke, who no longer risks his life in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect the United States, but has been reassigned to piloting drones in an air-conditioned cubicle in the desert near Las Vegas, 7,000 miles away from the action. He now fights the war on terror by remote control for 12 hours, and goes home to his wife (a terrific performance by January Jones) and kids the other half of the day.

Ethan Hawke gives one of the best performances of his career as Major Tommy Egan, who is having extreme difficulty adjusting from the dangerous life of a fighter pilot to a man whose co-workers now include gamers chosen for their ability to play video games in a shopping mall. The movie is set in 2010, and starts with the drones being controlled by the Department of Defense, with definite rules of engagement. Then Egan's unit is chosen to take orders directly from the CIA, and the rationale for the orders to kill start getting freaky. A disembodied voice (a chilling Peter Coyote) comes on the speaker phone: "Just call me Langley," and explains why it's now okay to kill innocent civilians. After the kill, the unit is then required to count the number of dead bodies.

After a stressful day on the job, Egan cranks up the music and zooms home in his souped-up Mustang, the artificial worlds of Las Vegas looming in the background. Even though Egan is always low-key, and never talks about his work at home, the effect the job is having on him starts spilling onto his family. At a barbeque in the yard of his track home in the suburbs that looks like all the rest (except the Egans have a swatch of grass in the back), a friend asks Molly, Egan's wife, if he ever gets angry. "Yes," she replies. "He gets even quieter."


From Variety:

Andrew Niccol takes on the topical issue of drone strikes in a tense war drama notable for its tact and intelligence.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Ethan Hawke stars as a drone pilot fighting the Taliban from the Nevada desert in writer-director Andrew Niccol's timely psychological drama 


Andrew Niccol, Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz (who gives a great performance as Egan's co-worker with real credentials) and producer Zev Foreman (who also produced the Academy Awarding-winning film, "The Hurt Locker") were all here in Venice for the press conference. No one has made a movie about drones before; we have no idea what this new form of warfare is all about, or the effect it has on the people who must perform it, and their families. Andrew Niccol said that he is not anti-drone or pro-drone, he wanted to make a movie about what it is. We keep hearing about "signature strikes." What are they, actually? Ethan Hawke said that his grandfather fought in World War II and never had to count the damage he did. What are we asking these people on the front line of the new modern warfare to do?

The panel was asked if the military had helped with the project, and the answer was no. "It's difficult to make a military movie with no support from the military." Zev Foreman said that he had given the script to the Department of Defense, who had cooperated when he made "The Hurt Locker," but that the "PR machine inside the DoD does not know how to handle the issue." There is a rivalry between the DoD and the OGA -- no one inside the drone program uses the initials "CIA," but, instead, "OGA" for "other governmental agencies" when they speak about who runs the drone program.


Andrew Niccol and Ethan Hawke both stressed that "Good Kill" was a cautionary tale, and that the emphasis in the film was about the people who have been placed in this incredible situation. Drones are bringing about the death of a job: pilots who actually know how to fly a fighter jet. It made me think: what will the world be like when there are no more top guns? People who know how to execute the super skills needed to fly a fighter jet? They took away Egan's work, which defined him as a human being. How many more human experiences will mankind lose? They are taking all the fun out of being a human being! Riding a stationary bicycle in a gym while watching a digital landscape go by is not the same as feeling the wind in your hair and smelling the grass on a winding country road.

I thought the film was practically perfect, from the performances, to the directing, to the cinematography and the music that set the tone. I was riveted. The ending was criticized at the press conference for being "too Hollywood," and Andrew Niccol replied, "We don't know what the ending is.""Good Kill" is a deeply human story, and the ending is the right ending. It is a MUST SEE.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

P.S. This snippet review from the English-language version of ANSA, the Italian news wire, is not accurate from my point of view. At the press screening I attended in the Sala Grande at 11:30 AM, there was no booing whatsoever. If someone booed at the earlier screening, well, I would not be the least bit surprised if it was a stunt. "Good Kill" is excellent, and the CIA has every reason to want you not to see it.

1 comment:

  1. I thought the film was practically perfect, from the performances, to the directing, to the cinematography and the music that set the tone. I was riveted. The ending was criticized at the press conference for being "too Hollywood," and Andrew Niccol replied, "We don't know what the ending is.""Good Kill" is a deeply human story, and the ending is the right ending. It is a MUST SEE.

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