Another film that came close but, once again, no cigar.
The 2014 feature Good Kill drew significant critical praise for its up-to-the-moment depiction of modern warfare. In it, Ethan Hawke portrays a US Air Force fighter pilot who, as a result of defense-budget downsizing, now pilots Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles from a base Las Vegas. He struggles with the fact that he is not physically in the war zone, putting his own life at risk. Counter-intuitively, it can be more difficult to fight a war in the Middle East for a 12-hour-shift and then head home to the Vegas suburbs to join his wife and kids. As the story develops, he is assigned to fly missions for the CIA and his psychological strain increases to the breaking point.
I have a feeling that the glowing reviews from the major news outlets had more to do with the political message than with the film itself. While on its face the film may not be purely anti-war, we come to see that the “good” characters are the ones bothered by the direction taken in the war on terror whereas the pro-American messages are always from the more shallow, jingoistic characters.
The film opens up with a “based on real events” title card. I have seen (but not read) some stories about the emotional stress of fighting real war from a computer terminal a short commute from one’s house, so I am aware there is some basis. I also can’t say I know much, if anything, about the modern Air Force and its use of drones. My impression, though is… well, let’s just say I don’t think they had the cooperation of the Air Force in the making of this particular film.
My gut is backed up by the occasional online user review from someone who claims they do know a bit about the reality. For those who preface their comments with a claim to have been involved in Air Force operations, the sentiment seems to be universally negative. I suspect that for every obvious slip up (the list of goofs are many), there are many more that I won’t catch. While being accurate isn’t necessary to make a great film, inaccuracy and misrepresentation does weigh a film down. If nothing else, I get the sense that I’m being emotionally manipulated in being shown only what the creators want me to see; by things that are neither accurate nor representative.
Think about it with a counter-example. Instead of making a film where a moral and patriotic pilot is forced to obey unjust orders from an ethically bankrupt CIA, a different background could have packaged the same basic story. What if Hawke was tormented because he watched, from 7000 miles away, his fellow Americans being killed. What if he feels ineffective – forced by the Rules of Engagement to sit by as others die and, in particular, guilty because his is under no threat himself. The character arc could have been the same but, instead, we’d see a film more typical of the pro-war genre. Would it have been a better or worse film? I don’t know. Would it have received accolades from the New York Times and the Washington Post? I doubt it. I’m not even particularly pro-drone-strike, myself, but I don’t like being told I’m watching a story about a good soldier under stress while being tricked into watching a piece about why the U.S. use of drones is so evil.
As I’ve written so many times before in various other contexts, this wasn’t a bad film. In fact, it was decent. It did some things wrong and it did some things right. I just feel a little sad for it in that it missed the chance to be better. Maybe earning four stars out of five instead of three-and-a-half. I can’t find any production budget information, so I can’t tell if it made or lost money. Pulling in about $1.5 million, it doesn’t sound successful. Director Andrew Niccol once made the outstanding Lord of War which, although also “based on real events,” was clearly portraying them inaccurately. What a black comedy can get away with, perhaps, a slow, dark drama cannot. But I think part of the answer is I didn’t feel manipulated by the exaggerated story of Yuri Orlov because I knew it was exaggerated.
Just so the critiques don’t sound too one-sided politics-wise, I came across another review (which I can’t find now) that said something to the effect, “Sorry we bombed your country. Here’s a movie about how it made us feel bad.” I think left or right, you can be disappointed in the shallowness and the disingenuousness of this film.
As to the transplanting Lisa Bonet’s voice into Zoë Kravitz’s 25-year old body? My only response is Allāhu akbar.