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Good Kill: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Good Kill (2015) movie poster Good Kill

Theatrical Release: May 15, 2015 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Andrew Niccol

Cast: Ethan Hawke (Major Thomas Egan), Bruce Greenwood (Lt. Colonel Jack Johns), Zoλ Kravitz (Airman Vera Suarez), Jake Abel (M.I.C. Joseph Zimmer), January Jones (Molly Egan), Ryan Montano (Airman Roy Carlos), Dylan Kenin (Capt. Ed Christie), Zion Leyba (Travis Egan), Sachie Capitani (Jesse Egan), Peter Coyote (voice of Langley)

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The filmmaking career of Andrew Niccol began with such promise. After making commercials in London, the New Zealand-born-and-raised Niccol came to America. His first film as writer-director, 1997's Gattaca, a sci-fi tale set in a genetics-obsessed future, was nothing short of brilliant.
Months later, Niccol's first screenplay, The Truman Show, came to fruition under the direction of Peter Weir. It too was great, striking most with its Oscar-worthy original writing. Niccol's third film was his first to falter. The 2002 Hollywood satire S1m0ne, which he both wrote and directed, struck out with critics and moviegoers alike.

Niccol has never fully recovered from that misstep. He next was credited with story on The Terminal (2004), which might just be the worst movie Steven Spielberg has ever made (even counting The Lost World and 1941). Niccol returned to the director's chair on the following year's Lord of War, a Nicolas Cage vehicle that lost money while drawing mixed reviews. After a six-year hiatus, Niccol went back to original sci-fi for In Time, a mediocre film with echoes of Gattaca that disappointed stateside but performed well overseas. In 2013, he adapted and directed The Host, a teen-oriented sci-fi romance adapted from a novel by Stephenie Meyer. That box office non-starter went down as one of a number of films aiming for and missing a passionate fanbase resembling that of Meyer's Twilight Saga.

"Good Kill" stars Ethan Hawke as Thomas Egan, the long-distance pilot of military drones.

Good Kill, Niccol's latest film as writer, director, and producer, reunites him with Gattaca star and Lord of War co-star Ethan Hawke. Hawke plays Thomas Egan, a pilot active in the War on Terror...from the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada. Thomas pilots unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as military drones. Though he wears an official badge-adorned jumpsuit to work, Thomas sits at a console all day spying on and killing targets in the Middle East that have been identified as terrorists. Our story takes place in 2010, a year opening text indicates that the United States' use of military drones soared.

It is not fulfilling work for Thomas, who begs his supervisor (Bruce Greenwood) to return him to piloting real combat planes. Sure, Thomas gets to go home to his wife (January Jones) and two children every night and live like a civilian, complete with barbecues and liquor store runs. But the long-distance nature of his work, which is rightfully likened to a first-person shooter video game, is not enough to numb him to his actions, which regularly take the lives of non-combatants who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thomas and his fellow drone pilots, including the cute newest recruit (Zoλ Kravitz) and a defensive young man with CIA ambitions (Jake Abel), have different outlooks on their work. Those perspectives change further when the outfit begins taking their orders directly from the CIA, who require executing follow-up strikes on rescue workers just like the enemy does.

Thomas' (Ethan Hawke) work weighs heavily on his marriage to Molly (January Jones).

Good Kill is a change of pace for Niccol, presumably more like Lord of War than his sci-fi efforts. It is an interesting subject that has not been given much thought in film or other media.
Niccol does not treat the material with the subtlety and intelligence you would like. At a number of times, the movie makes you cringe with dialogue that would be at home in a B-movie. The political debate that Thomas and his colleagues habitually engage in feels forced and false. Attempts to humanize Thomas with peeks at his personal life, specifically the strained marriage he fears is a victim of infidelity, are less than graceful and only moderately effective.

Still, there is enough here to sympathize with our protagonist, a role that Hawke could and nearly does play in his sleep. Hawke has been adept at alternating between mainstream genre flicks and arthouse work in which he is more creatively invested. This film is something in between. You assume Hawke was attracted to the timely topic as much as another opportunity to collaborate with Niccol.

The film kind of plays like the cynical modern-day antidote to Top Gun. It's something you could imagine playing in two thousand theaters, particularly after the similarly-themed American Sniper grossed $350 million domestically just a few months earlier. Instead, Good Kill claimed fewer than 4% of Sniper's theater count and sold less than 1% of its tickets. Most critics received the film with measured praise, but the slightly favorable reviews were not enough to drum up much business or drive IFC to expand beyond the 143 venues of the film's soft-performing second weekend.

Those results should be of far greater concern to Niccol than they are to Hawke, who has no fewer than six projects on the way, a healthy mix of indies (the Chet Baker biopic Born to Be Blue), potentially respectable thrillers (Alejandro Amenαbar's Regression), and likely commercial undertakings (Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven remake with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt).

While you prefer to see Niccol writing his own stories instead of trying to find the next Twilight, the arc of his career suggests he will soon be forced to take whatever he can get. Not inspiring hope: his only in-development project on IMDb is a screenplay for Monopoly, based on the board game of the same name, a Hasbro-Lionsgate co-production officially described as "a film for all ages, visually sumptuous, heartwarming, and full of action and adventure." Let us hope that somehow Niccol can return to the path of a visionary his first two movies hinted at. It's fascinating how his career might have evolved like Christopher Nolan's had their filmographies not diverged so remarkably following their respective 2002 Al Pacino collaborations. Whereas Nolan's films are now anticipated on release date alone (see this week's announcement), Niccol's name remains unknown to the average filmgoer.

Good Kill may not have had a major studio behind it in theaters, but it does on home video, recently reaching Blu-ray, DVD, and digital from Paramount Home Entertainment as part of their limited deal with IFC following their fruitful partnership on Boyhood.

Good Kill: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; BD Film-only: English for Hearing Impaired
DVD Closed Captioned; Blu-ray Extra Subtitled
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Good Kill's budget is not public information, but it seems likely to be the smallest yet for an Andrew Niccol film. Still, the 2.40:1 film looks good on Blu-ray, doing what it can to avoid making viewers claustrophobic with the tight, dark sets where much of it unfolds. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix distributes the soundtrack admirably.

Writer-director-producer Andrew Niccol discusses his film alongside a teaser poster in "Good Kill: Behind the Scenes." Andrew Niccol directs Bruce Greenwood on the desert set of "Good Kill."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's only extra is "Good Kill: Behind the Scenes" (15:06),
a basic but good making-of featurette that considers the subject matter as well as the cast and their characters with the usual blend of talking heads, clips, and B-roll.

Though the packaging curiously makes no mention of it whatsoever, this edition does also include a DVD of the film. Like Paramount's other new movies DVD, this one includes no bonus features at all. Not even trailers for other movies are found here.

Each disc sports a static, silent main menu adapted from the poster-derived cover art.

An insert supplying your iTunes and UltraViolet-compatible Digital HD code and directions is all that joins the plain blue and gray discs inside the unslipcovered eco-friendly blue keepcase.

Drone cameras give their pilots an intimate look at possible terrorist targets from a distance far enough to avoid detection.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Good Kill returns the talented Andrew Niccol to original storytelling and working with Ethan Hawke while moving him away from sci-fi and into timely, unconventional war drama. While the film has plenty of substance and ideas, it does not always present them in the most compelling manner, getting tripped up with strained domestic drama, political debate, and occasionally cringe-worthy dialogue. There's enough here to recommend a viewing, though far from enough to suggest that Niccol is back on the exciting path his first two features placed him.

Paramount's Blu-ray, a combo pack unidentified as such, satisfies with its formidable feature presentation and satisfactory featurette.

Buy Good Kill from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Mad Max: Fury Road • Citizenfour • The D Train • Boulevard • The Runner
Written and Directed by Andrew Niccol: In Time | Written by Andrew Niccol: The Terminal
Ethan Hawke: Predestination • Boyhood • Before Midnight • Getaway • Brooklyn's Finest • White Fang • Dead Poets Society
January Jones: Sweetwater • Unknown • Seeking Justice • X-Men: First Class • Mad Men: Season 6
Zoλ Kravitz: Divergent • After Earth | Jake Abel: I Am Number Four • Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Bruce Greenwood: Eight Below • Flight • Deja Vu • Star Trek Into Darkness • National Treasure: Book of Secrets • Devil's Knot
American Sniper • Top Gun • Zero Dark Thirty • Shooter • Red Dawn • Body of Lies

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Reviewed September 10, 2015.



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