Review by Joshua Handler
This review was originally published during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. The Kill Team went on to win the Best Documentary award.
One of the best films showing at the Tribeca Film Festival, Dan Krauss’ documentary The Kill Team tells the story of a group of a group of American soldiers who form a “kill team” and set up innocent Afghan civilians as an excuse to kill them. This documentary is surprisingly unbiased and is extremely unsettling.
Through interviews with many of the soldiers who participated in these murders, Krauss crafts a disturbing investigation into how these murders happened and why they did. Private Adam Winfield is the main interviewee in The Kill Team. He wanted to report the murders that he had witnessed, but was threatened with death. He talked to his parents who tried everything they could to help him, but nothing worked. Eventually, he was pressured into participating in a killing. Because he didn’t report the killings, he was charged with premeditated murder.
This incendiary documentary is truly infuriating. It takes a deep, hard look at the United States army and exposes much of what is wrong with its hierarchy. This film is a sort-of companion to the equally infuriating and powerful documentary The Tillman Story, about a military cover-up, and 2012 Oscar-nominee The Invisible War about sexual assault in the military. In the past few years since the war in Iraq and Afghanistan has quieted down some, there have been some riveting exposés on the military, making us question how good this seemingly heroic group of Americans really are. These people are supposedly protecting our country, but when looking at a film such as The Kill Team, it makes one question their heroism and bravery.
The Kill Team also raises some other disturbing questions about the hierarchy of nations. The United States is frequently after other nations for committing heinous war crimes or crimes against humanity, yet U.S. soldiers are committing heinous war crimes overseas and covering it up, showing a large double standard. As said in The Kill Team, the group portrayed is not the only group committing the crimes that were described in the film, meaning that there may be countless other groups going out and covering up murders of innocent people. The soldiers interviewed also discussed how the Afghan people to them are lower than dirt when they are off at war, showing the twisted mindset of these men. This is not to say that the military is bad and that everyone in it is either. That is not the point. The point is that documentaries like The Kill Team are so important because they call for change in a largely corrupted organization originally intended to do good.
The Kill Team is smartly assembled, and oddly depoliticized. While it is certainly a critical look at the army, this is not because the filmmakers put a political slant on it. They simply showed surprisingly detailed interviews with the soldiers involved with the killings and let them tell the story.
Overall, The Kill Team is a masterful documentary that should be seen by everyone. The general public needs to see a film like this, however I am concerned that it will only be seen by those that do not need to see it: those that agree with the critical views of the military expressed in the film.