(Revises subject matter of director's earlier film para 2)
* "Good Kill" said to be first feature on drone warfare
* Director sees "schizophrenic nature" in drone attacks
* Drone pilot kills half the day, is with family other half
By Michael Roddy
VENICE, Sept 5 Ethan Hawke stars as a drone
pilot near Las Vegas who has a mental breakdown while killing
targets 7,000 miles away (11,000 km) in "Good Kill", a Venice
Film Festival entry shown on Friday and meant to spark debate.
Stating at the outset it is "based on actual events", the
film directed by New Zealand-born Andrew Niccol, whose 1997
gene-manipulation movie "Gattaca" was nominated for an Oscar,
takes place at a drone operations base in 2010.
"The thing that drew me to the project was the schizophrenic
nature of this warfare - it's a new type of warfare," Niccol
said at a post-screening news conference.
"We've never had a type of war before where a soldier like
Ethan Hawke's character basically goes to war for 12 hours,
fights the Taliban and goes home to his wife and kids and is
with them for 12 hours," he said.
"That's what kind of drew me to the story."
He said the producers of what he said was the first
fictional feature film about drone warfare sought the
cooperation of the U.S. Department of Defense in making the
movie, but this was declined.
"As far as getting it made, there were challenges because
it's very difficult to make a military movie with no support
from the military," he said.
"I hope it provokes a lot of thought and discussion, and as
I said, I think it's a cautionary tale so we'll think about
where we're going with this drone programme," he added.
Las Vegas with its casinos and neon provides a glitzy
contrast to the stark world of mud huts and desert landscape
that the drone operators see through their operating screens.
When they finish work, they return to houses in orderly
suburban developments, a world away from the sprawling Afghan
towns and villages that their drone missiles are attacking.
Hawke said the proximity to Las Vegas, plus a scene in which
the drone team meets up in a casino for drinks, underscored the
theme that the drone operators and their superiors were sitting
"in the city of sin passing judgment on the rest of the world".
Hawke's character Major Thomas Egan, a former fighter pilot
who has been recruited to bring his flight experience to the
drone team, is one of the most skilled operators.
In one of the first scenes, he uses that experience to
choose precisely the right moment to fire and destroy a target,
after which he and the others in the cramped metal operations
room proclaim it as a "good kill".
But Egan is troubled about "collateral damage" - meaning
civilians - who are killed in the attacks.
His misgivings grow tenfold when the Central Intelligence
Agency assumes overall control of his team and begins ordering
follow-up strikes minutes after a first missile has struck, thus
ensuring that rescuers are killed.
The ramped-up killings of civilians causes him to drink
heavily and his marriage suffers in what Hawke said was an
extremely disorienting style of warfare.
"He's fighting the Taliban and in the afternoon he's picking
his kids up from school," he said. "It creates a chaos in his
At the same time, Egan feels his skills as a fighter pilot
are being supplanted by people whose talents lie in playing
video games. Flying a drone is like a video game except, as his
superior in the film points out: "Make no mistake about it, this
Niccol said his film was not intended to be pro or anti-war,
but remarked that the language the drone operators use, with
phrases such as "pre-emptive self-defence" for attacking first,
would have "1984" author George Orwell spinning in his grave.
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Tom Heneghan)