Andrew Niccol’s “Good Kill,” opening on May 15, tells the story of a Las Vegas-based U.S. military drone pilot (Ethan Hawke) who grapples with the moral questions of increasing escalation of airstrikes via joystick, a new type of warfare that is put under greater control of the CIA.
The movie comes as new doubts are raised about the drone program following the White House’s recent announcement that two Western hostages were accidentally killed in a drone strike in Pakistan. Members of Congress and even the administration have called for the Defense Department to take the lead on the program.
“Good Kill” shows the unprecedented effectiveness and precision of drone strikes, but its focus is on the lives of the pilots, at times called to pull the trigger even when there is certainty that the casualties will include civilians in the unfortunate vicinity of terrorist targets, like a funeral of a Taliban member killed in an earlier strike. That, Niccol says, was based on real incidents.
“I’m only telling the truth, so I am only saying what is, so from that point of view, I am being as even-handed as you can,” Niccol tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics.” “As I say, this is extremely precise. It’s not like we are carpet bombing anymore. We have lowered collateral damage to the lowest [possibility]. The thing is … it depends on the intel. You can hit the house you want to hit, but you have got to make sure it is the right house.”
As CIA buzzwords like “proportionality” are used to justify the killing of presumably innocent civilians near suspected terrorists, one of the pilots (Zoe Kravitz) at one point asks, “Why are we Hamas?” Other pilots are better able to compartmentalize their duties, leaving the ethical questions to their superiors.
Niccol says he hopes that the movie does “start a debate because as I say, these things are done in our name.”
Niccol did not get the cooperation of the military, but he did consult with ex-drone pilots. What he found was that some of the younger pilots would work 12-hour shifts, then go home and play videogames for hours.
“I couldn’t put it in the movie because I thought no one would believe it,” he says.
One of the tools that Niccol used for research was WikiLeaks. “That is the only way you get to see what a drone strike looks like,” he says. “I should probably credit Bradley Manning or Chelsea Manning as my researchers for some of the movie.”
Major studios passed on the film, and Niccol says, “If you are telling an uncomfortable truth, I think that is always going to be difficult.” But the major challenge was not having military cooperation. “So I had to do it from scratch and to get everyone to do it for the love really.”
Dustin Lance Black on the Supreme Court’s Oral Arguments
During the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on Tuesday in the same-sex marriage cases, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the definition of marriage had “been with us for millennia. And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.'”
Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” says Kennedy’s remark “was actually a fair question to say, ‘How did we get here?'”
“What I would like to have heard was a little bit of the LGBT story of the last half century,” he says, adding that “our larger narrative and our personal one … is what has gotten us to this place quickly.”
When he won an Oscar in 2009, Black called for equal rights for gays and lesbians at the federal level. At that time, it was actually a controversial comment as so much of the strategy in the LGBT movement had been winning state-by-state, or fending off ballot initiatives.
When asked whether a yearlong boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel is enough time to send a message to the owner, the Sultan of Brunei, Black says, “Absolutely not. We are truly talking about people being killed for being gay.”
“The Wire” and Baltimore
Nikki Schwab of U.S. News and Cynthia Littleton of Variety talk about the unrest in Baltimore and the commentary on the riots from “The Wire” creator David Simon.
“PopPolitics,” hosted by Ted Johnson, airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS.