The Kill Team
Starring Nat Wolff, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Long, Jonathan Whitesell, Brian Marc
Documentarian Dan Krauss wades into his first feature film, adapting his 2014 doc The Kill Team for the big screen. While virtually nothing’s new in the story of a young US Army Soldier finding a conscious when faced with moral decay in his unit, Krauss dramatization of this true story is still effective. Less is more is the technique deployed, partly based on budgetary restraints, but this allows the focus to fall on the performances from Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars) and Skarsgård (Long Shot). A swift running time of 87 minutes trims the fat from the story, narrowing the focus solely on the issue at hand and not on extraneous war time components everyone’s familiar with.
“We kill people, that’s what we do,” Sergeant Deeks (Skarsgård ) responds to those in his unit concerned about the dead Afghan laying at their feet. It’s 2009 and Andrew Briggman (Wolff) has just been made team leader, a decision he will quickly come to regret. Briggman’s report on the first dead Afghan body, is riddled with holes, but he gives the crew and his superior the benefit of the doubt as they cover for each other. The second outing, he witnesses the US Army murder an unarmed, innocent civilian. “They are cooperators. You kill one of them and save ten of ours,” is Derks’s response when confronted in private. Briggman contacts his father (Rob Morrow) back home seeking advice on what to do, fearful his own men will retaliate against him.
While it never reaches thriller status, The Kill Team manages numerous moments of high tension.
The first few minutes of Skarsgård’s screentime plays like an episode of Big Little Lies, where his character comes off as the cool guy everyone wants to be around. Deeks is the guy who manufactures loyalty in disguise of friendship, but like with most Skarsgård roles, this career villain is cast for a reason. While Deeks is certainly the stereotypical war movie villain, his methods adhere to Krauss’s less-is-more theme. Specifically there is a scene where Deeks admits to Briggman he’s going to threaten him. The young soldier as confused as the audience, anticipated some brutal moment that never arrives. Psychological terror is the currency in which Deeks prey’s as is the entire premise of the film. While it never reaches thriller status, The Kill Team manages numerous moments of high tension.
Celebratory scenes of mostly young white men celebrating the deaths of foreigners depicts a corrupt military. Worse it illustrates uneducated men who sign up for the military to shoot things, people, and legally live out the kind of brutality portrayed in video games. The Kill Team is a true story, only indicting a specific unit, but what’s scarier is how easy these immature boys are mostly unchecked. “I’m proud of you,” Andrew’s dad says as the film opens. He doesn’t need to repeat that sentiment at the end, because the audience will be thinking it for him. Krauss film is about justice ultimately but raises just as many questions about the units all over the world without a moral compass similar to Andrew Briggman.
The director’s less equals more approach, allows Kill Team narrow focus despite having little new to offer in the way of military corruption.