The ethics surrounding war are complicated. In just the past
The ethics surrounding war are complicated. In just the past few weeks, public debates on the ethics of war have erupted on Twitter surrounding the legacies of former presidents. How do we justify murdering people, strangers in foreign countries? How do soldiers decide who needs to die? What is too far?
“The Kill Team,” based on the 2013 documentary of the same name, tells the true story of soldiers going too far. It tells the story of Andrew Briggman, a young soldier in Afghanistan, who discovers that the other soldiers in his unit are killing innocent civilians under the direction of their new leader Sergeant Gibbs. The film depicts the incidents known to the as the Maywand District Murders that took place from June 2009 to June 2010. The case spurred many headlines and raised a lot of questions about the American military’s investigation of suspicious killings.
The film paints a harsh image of the U.S. military by emphasizing the gritty masculinity and the callousness of the soldiers. It tries to portray the warped mentality of these individuals as they take on these unjust killings as their mission. It also depicts the violent cult mentality that ultimately dooms the unit.
In the dramatization, Andrew Briggman is a fictionalized version of his real-life counterpart Adam Winfield and is portrayed by Nat Wolff (“Paper Towns,” “Death Note”). Wolff gives an emotional performance, embodying the complex journey Briggman goes through as he is faced with a dire ultimatum. As his character states in the film: “do I do the right thing and put myself in danger or do I just shut up and deal with it?”
Wolff mostly plays off of Alexander Skarsgard, who plays the dramatized version of Calvin Gibbs – Staff Sergeant Deeks. Skarsgard gives a dark performance here, amplifying the sadistic elements of this character. He is a tenacious and cruel leader, pitting his soldiers against each other to assert his dominance. It is a disturbing and captivating performance to watch.
The film was written and directed by Dan Krauss, who also directed the 2013 documentary. Krauss has largely worked within the documentary space, earning him multiple Academy Award nominations and Emmy Awards.
“The Kill Team” is his feature film debut, and his newcomer status is noticeable in the end result. The complex emotional nature of the story is laced throughout the film but is never given the proper time to sink in with the audience. You never really get a full sense of the emotional weight Briggman is carrying knowing his unit’s wrong-doings and feeling threatened to not speak out. The writing has wonderful passages, but the film constantly pulls you out of the moment. The scenes are clipped and stitched together, not giving the actors or the audience enough time to really explore the implications of every action. In fact, with a run time of just 80 minutes, the entire film is a bit rushed – especially the climax.
What the film does best is give the audience a glimpse of the more toxic and sinister aspects of the military, such as celebrations after killing civilians and the dangerous stunts disguised as exercises in trust. It is an alarming look at the mentality we are forcing people into in the name of patriotism.
Though “The Kill Team” lacks a certain amount of film mastery, it is still a visceral drama depicting a complex true story. It will leave you wondering what you would do in Briggman’s shoes and questioning military culture in the modern era.