Dan Krauss adapts his award-winning 2013 documentary as a narrative film. The Kill Team is the true story of war crimes committed by a platoon of American soldiers during operations in Afghanistan. It is a frightening and cautionary tale of moral degradation. Where hate, fear, and complicity led to calculated murder. The Kill Team paints a harrowing picture of humanity’s worst instincts. Its lean runtime and pragmatic approach reinforcing how easily civilization slips away.
Set in 2009 Kandahar Province, Private Andrew Briggman (Nat Wolff) is excited to be a part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The proud son of a father (Rob Morrow) who served, Briggman has core beliefs in the military and American values. His faith in the cause is quickly soured by the brutal realities of war. He watches as his commanding officer is blown to pieces by an improvised explosive device (IED). His platoon is shaken and enraged by the loss of their leader; who preached respect for the local civilians.
Staff Sergeant Deeks (Alexander Skarsgård) becomes their new commander. Battle hardened and fierce, he views the Afghan villagers as complicit in the IED attacks. Briggman is horrified when a fellow soldier (Adam Long) kills a civilian, and is rewarded by Deeks. The platoon becomes ruthless in their search operations. When Briggman secretly reveals their activities to his father, Deeks becomes suspicious of a traitor in their midst. Briggman must prove loyalty to his brothers in arms, or risk becoming one of their victims.
The Kill Team is not a flowery discourse on the ravages of war. There are no epic battle scenes or bullet-ridden shootouts. Military life in a combat zone is portrayed with stark realism. Behind the base walls, the men drink, have barbecues, and smoke hash. Outside on patrol, they can be killed in an instant. Recognizing friend from foe among the civilian population is a dangerous gambit. The film establishes this treacherous constant early on. Sergeant Deeks has a great scene where he expresses zero sympathy for the villagers. They don’t know where the insurgents are, but somehow avoid all of the IEDs. It is a cold rationale, the fuse that lights their murderous turn.
The Kill Team has excellent tension between the characters. Briggman’s paranoia and Deeks’ efforts to flush out the rat will have you glued to the screen. The drama compounded by the appalling violence perpetrated on the innocent Afghans. Alexander Skarsgård has made a career of dispatching brutality with an icy demeanor. Nat Wolff spends the majority of the film visibly on a razor’s edge. The situation is dire from all sides.
The root of the film’s message is the line between right and wrong. There is no gray area, despite the cruel environment. The men don’t see themselves as murderers, but warriors fighting against an evil enemy. When you can’t comprehend the difference between a civilian and combatant, then you risk becoming a cold-blooded killer with no regard for life. The Kill Team also reminds us that doing nothing, staying quiet, is equally unforgivable.
Dan Krauss excels in his feature debut. The Kill Team captures the doc’s essence in thought provoking fiction. His measured, no frills directing style makes the film even more impactful. We have been fighting in Afghanistan for eighteen years. Events in The Kill Team took place a decade ago. The war has become endless. The Kill Team is a production of Nostromo Pictures and Temple Hill Entertainment with distribution by A24.
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