Tag Archives: Andrew Niccol

Eye in the Sky

Good Kill

by Hope Madden

In 2013, Jeremy Scahill opened our eyes to the darker side of drone wars with his documentary Dirty Wars. Writer/director Andrew Niccol uses a more understated and intimate road to the same destination with his latest effort, Good Kill.

The film follows Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke), a man who flew 6 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now on his third tour in a Vegas cubical piloting drones. From 7000 miles away he watches, then eliminates Taliban threats. Then he goes home to barbeque.

As a writer, Niccol has a long history of mining similar ideas – the alienating power of surveillance as well as the business of war (The Truman Show, Lord of War). He’s on his game here, depositing points and counterpoints in the mouths of the right characters and watching each character evolve as their duties begin to look more like war crimes.

Niccol made some fine decisions as the director as well, keeping the tone understated and the tensions on low boil. He also slyly parallels the aerial images of the Middle East – dry, brown and dusty with neat rows of damaged houses – with aerials of Vegas. Once you get past the glitz and bombast of the strip, the landscape is eerily similar. Not only does this humanize the targets, but it exposes our own vulnerability.

Hawke, hot off a career-best performance in Boyhood, does a stellar job animating a mostly internal character. His struggle feels honest, and on the rare occasion that Tom articulates an issue, his thoughts are enlightening. “We got no skin in the game. I feel like a coward every day.”

Bruce Greenwood, reliable as always, carries a great deal of the weight in the film without ever taking the spotlight. Meanwhile, the great character actor Peter Coyote lends a smarmy, soulless voice as “Langley,” the CIA contact given control over Egan’s unit.

This is a meticulously written script, one that weighs issues without truly taking sides, and Niccol develops a hushed tension that builds to something powerful.

It’s a finely crafted and engrossing film that looks at the effects of a risk-free war from the eyes of one of the warriors being saved from combat. Without beating you about the head with its message, it’s about a lot more than that, too.


No shirtlessness, no sparkling skin, same old story

By Hope Madden

A young girl, plunged into a supernatural adventure, is torn between the abiding love of two handsome, upstanding, oddly respectful young men. Whom will she choose?

Nope, this one is The Host, the newest effort by Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, who clearly has a one-track mind.

The earth has long been occupied by an alien race of Invasion of the Body Snatcher-style parasites. (Except these aliens are pretty, glowy guys, so expect a far softer ending. Indeed, expect an ending so soft, so convenient that it undoes any amount of credibility the film struggles to create.)

When Melanie (Saiorse Ronin), one of the few remaining humans, is captured, her will to live and be herself makes it difficult for her alien parasite Wanderer to take her body over completely. Now the two battle it out over control of the body, as well as dating decisions.

Both crushes (Max Irons, Jake Abel) keep their shirts on – just one of the ways director Andrew Niccol finds to tell a more understated, less creepy version of basically the same story as Meyer’s unforgivably popular Twilight.

Another huge difference – the great Saiorse Ronin stars. Perhaps you think it’s a bit premature to call a 19-year-old great. You are incorrect. Ronin is a phenomenal talent, and while The Host may not be her best effort, she is certainly superior to the material.

Most of the film consists of Ronin (in voice over) fighting with Ronin (in the flesh), as she plays two characters trapped in the same body. The performer possesses a calm control that grounds not only her performance, but the film itself, elevating the silliness to something surprisingly watchable. (I’m not going to lie, you’re better off just renting Hanna again.)

While Ronin helps to make the content palatable by sheer force of talent, Niccol can’t manage the same. His film plods ever onward, often filling the screen with beautiful images, but never finding any forward momentum. Trimming 30 minutes from his 125 minute run time would have helped a great deal.

But then, we’d have been spared some of the bludgeoning of Meyer’s wisdoms aimed at today’s young women. What can we learn? You must fight to be who you are, girls! Also, prejudice is bad. And violence – violence is bad.

And, of course, wouldn’t it be exciting if two hot boys wanted to kiss you at the same time?

2 stars (out of 5)