When Ethan Hawke re-teamed with "Gattica" director Andrew Nicchol for "Good Kill," he saw it as an irresistible opportunity to learn more about a very topical subject. "I'd been hearing about drone strikes in the newspaper for years, and I had no context for what it meant," Hawke says while premiering the film at the Toronto International Film Festival. "I really had no mental picture of what it meant, who pulls the trigger and who's in charge. I imagine what it was like to be in 1914 or something and read in the paper about this thing going on, trench warfare, and going, 'What is a trench?'"
In "Good Kill," Hawke plays a seasoned fighter pilot now relegated to piloting unmanned aerial vehicles — or drones — in Afghanistan from a trailer on an Air Force base in Las Vegas in 2010, during the height of the U.S. military's use of drone attacks. "Here's a soldier who's being asked to do something that I've never seen anyone asked to do, which is that he's fighting the Taliban all afternoon and then he stops at the 7-Eleven and picks up some bacon and eggs and some orange juice, goes home." Hawke explains. "And then he goes to war again [the next morning]. When I was growing up, you'd hear about guys coming home from Vietnam and the transition and how hard that was, and how these guys are being asked to do that every day."
And what has Hawke learned from making the film? That there are no easy answers with this war. "I feel that the situation is so complex," he says. "To pretend that there isn't a tremendous amount of malice out in the world against the West and there aren't people that want to undermine our entire way of life and wouldn't love to see the whole city of New York burn — to pretend like that doesn't exist is to be naive."
But at the same time, Hawke offers, "Do I want my government to be killing people at a funeral? I don't, I think that's wrong. Do I like when I read that we'll shoot first-responders? Do the ends justify the means? And how would you feel if that was your kid? We're stopping terrorism here, but we're the perpetrators of terror in another part of the world."
Then, of course, there is the more immediate question of the drone program itself. "It's this intersection of where our humanity is hitting where technology has brought us. People I know in the military will say that yeah, there are these casualties, but it's a hell of a lot better than Dresden. We killed a lot of civilians in Dresden, too. Everything's changing. Things get better and they get worse simultaneously. You just don't want an ignorant public. An ignorant public creates monsters in the government."
As for how far Hawke thinks technology will go? "It will go until we blow up the planet," he offers bluntly. "I mean, probably."