Nearly two years ago, a series of profile pieces were published about Brandon Bryant, a former sensor operator in the Air Force’s fleet of Predator drones. Collectively, they provided a rare look at an individual who had helped launch Hellfire missile strikes from drones in Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones from thousands of miles away.
In each of those pieces, Bryant said he struggled with the the implications of what he had done. When he left the Air Force, he said received a scorecard with a tally of his Predator squadron’s kills: 1,626.
“The number made me sick to my stomach,” he told GQ magazine.
There isn’t a lot of other media about the men and women who operate the Pentagon’s fleet of armed drones, in part because of the secretive nature of what they do. Into this relative void steps the forthcoming movie “Good Kill,” starring Ethan Hawke as a drone pilot in Nevada conflicted by his work. A trailer for the film was released last week by Voltage Pictures and it shows Hawke’s character, former F-16 fighter pilot Maj. Thomas Egan, feeling “like a coward taking potshots at somebody halfway around the world.”
“I am a pilot and I’m not flying,” Egan tells his wife, played by January Jones. “I don’t know what it is that I am doing, but it’s not flying.”
Egan is shown in the trailer as angry at the world, abusing alcohol and screaming at his wife. His commanding officer, played by Bruce Greenwood, tells him that he needs to keep compartmentalizing what he does, and that it isn’t his job to decide whether they are fighting a just war. Meanwhile, it looks like Egan is unraveling — the stereotypical service member who has lost it.
The film was shown at film festivals in Toronto and Venice last fall, receiving some critical acclaim. It will be released in theaters sometime in 2015, and is directed by Andrew Niccol, whose credits include directing morally complicated films like Nicolas Cage’s “Lord of War” (previously referenced on Checkpoint) and Jim Carrey’s “The Truman Show.”
Whether “Good Kill” fairly characterizes the drone pilot force as a whole remains to been seen. A review published by The Guardian after the movie was aired in Toronto raised the question whether the supporting cast is too one-dimensional. The script goes too far in singling out two of his fellow pilots as overly enthusiastic idiots, while portraying a female co-worker who gets romantically involved with Hawke’s character as being the one with the conscience, the review said.
The trailer alone depicts all of the following stereotypes about the military:
1) Egan abuses alcohol and has a quick temper. The Pentagon has long coped with alcohol abuse among the troops, but the issue has been stereotyped, according to some, as this piece notes.
2) Two of Egan’s fellow drone pilots appear pumped each time they get a kill, serving as his foil of sorts. While some in the military undoubtedly view things simplistically, others certainly have a more nuanced and conflicted view.
3) The only woman besides Egan’s wife who has any significant role in the trailer is a fellow drone operator played by Zoë Kravitz. She appears to be romantically involved with him even though he is a married man, perpetuating stereotypes about how common infidelity is in the military. As this previous Washington Post piece explores, the issue is a sore spot that is rarely discussed in public.
The trailer, of course, is less than three minutes long. It will be interesting to see where the rest of the movie takes us.