Fictional movies that tackle topical subjects often have about them the fusty air of a civics lesson, as if we're supposed to watch pretending that we're not being led down the path of righteousness. But writer-director Andrew Niccol's Good Kill is something else; it's immediate and vital, and it doesn't leave you feeling like you've got all the right answers. This is an action movie, polished and efficient, where we watch all the action from a safe remove: Ethan Hawke stars as Thomas Egan, a drone pilot who lives in Las Vegas with his wife (January Jones) and two kids. Every day, he leaves his anonymous-looking airbase home for work, where he sits down in front of a console and picks off Taliban -- and more than a few unlucky Afghan civilians -- from the safety of his chair.
We see these wartime hits and misses just as Egan does, framed in the squared-off context of a computer screen, which is not so different from a movie screen — it's all so close, yet so far away. The picture is quiet, tense, and thoughtful. It's set in 2010, but Good Kill is rooted in the here and now. The moral issues it raises have grown more crucial rather than less. And its moral conscience has a great face: that of Ethan Hawke, who has always been a thoughtful, quietly expressive actor, but who seems to be finding even subtler shades of color as he rounds the bend toward middle age. Hawke keeps his performance hushed and low to the ground, making the ramifications of this new warfare distressingly intimate. The battle, this time, is much closer to home.