In Good Kill, Ethan Hawke plays a conflicted former fighter pilot now operating drones from a base in Las Vegas.
The film premiered in Venice and plays in Toronto Special Presentations starting Tuesday; Voltage Pictures handles international sales and CAA represents US. Voltage and Sobini produced and financed.
Why tell this story?
I was fascinated by the schizophrenia of this new warfare and the idea of going to war at home; something that has not happened before. I’m a pilot’s son and was interested in this very schizophrenic idea of a pilot who doesn’t fly.
When and where did you shoot?
We shot in Morocco for Waziristan and Yemen, New Mexico for much of the Las Vegas area and Las Vegas itself when we showed the Strip. We shot in late 2013. It was the fastest I have ever made a movie.
Hawke’s character is 7,000 miles from Afghanistan but he’s cracking up.
It’s well documented that [these people] have PTSD [Posttraumatic Stress Disorder]. They feel guilty about it because they have literally no skin in the game. We have gone from minimal skin in the game when we controlled air strikes over a country to absolutely no skin in the game.
Has the type of recruit changed drastically?
They don’t even need pilots any more. There’s a reason the console looks very much like a video game because gamers are very skilled at operating a drone from 7,000 miles away. In fact some of these pilots… will go from operating a drone to playing video games when they get home. I don’t know how one can separate the two [worlds].
Where are the drone bases?
There are numerous bases around the US. I focused on Las because it is this place where they’re known to operate. Also I liked the contrast between the glitz of Vegas and the poverty of Afghanistan. It’s no accident it’s [in Vegas]. They train them to fly drones over the mountains and the landscape is very much like that of Afghanistan.
What does this augur for the United States Air Force?
It’s the future. They’ve got a drone that can take off and land from an aircraft carrier. That used to be the preserve of the top of the top guns. Pilots and fighter jets are on their way out.
Good Kill is a million miles away from Top Gun.
It’s not black and white. There are aspects to the drone programme that are very beneficial, like when they protect troops on the ground. Strikes can be precise if you have he right intelligence. The other side of it, as [commanding officer] Bruce Greenwood’s character says is if we stop killing them are they going to stop killing us? The answer is no… This was a response to 9/11 but has become overkill.
The way you show the torment of Hawke’s character over what he is being asked to do by the CIA is powerful.
We always try to distance ourselves from the enemy but war has become so much easier and cheaper and that’s why we can have an endless war in terms of money and buying public approval. There are no boots on the ground and we don’t have to actually go there; we can kind of hover. Here we are fighting terror and yet we’re terrorising local populations. In Afghanistan they don’t go to rescue people who have been bombed because they’re scared of being bombed themselves. It’s called crowd killing – if you stand next to a terrorist you must be a terrorist.
So you had no co-operation from the Armed Forces, then?
There’s no military co-operation when you tell an uncomfortable truth. When a request was sent to the Department Of Defense, they politely declined. I was very lucky to get an ex-drone pilot to talk.