Cinema Review: The Kill Team | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019  

The Kill Team

Studio: A24
Directed by Dan Krauss

Oct 24, 2019 Web Exclusive
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War is hell, and hell is very much other people in Dan Krauss’ new feature, The Kill Team. A lightly fictionalised adaptation of his earlier award-winning documentary of the same name, The Kill Team tells the true story of the heinous war crimes committed by a U.S. military platoon stationed in Afghanistan, and one young private’s conflicted attempts to do the right thing in the face of his increasingly unchecked peers. If you think it’s tale of deteriorated war-time morals sounds familiar, then you’d be right on the money.

What made Krauss’ initial 2013 documentary on the subject so cutting was its personal evocation of the frequently maligned but rarely understood war in Afghanistan. Even as Krauss’ sympathies clearly lie at the feet of the morally besieged US Private Adam Winfield (renamed Andrew Briggman in this adaptation) the various talking heads afforded the situation shades of grey. In recreating the focal events here, Krauss pushes for a greater sense of immediacy, but ultimately loses the potency of the horse’s mouth.

Still, there’s a certain timeliness to Krauss' depiction of toxic masculinity in the armed forces. We follow Briggman (Nat Wolff) from the night before he deploys right through to the inevitable repercussions of his unit’s actions, all the while wading through the anxiety of his position. Annoyingly any arc is stunted by a simple single-mindedness to Krauss’ script, and a lack of personal connection to any of the characters. Briggman is an everyman at best, whilst nearly every other character is defined by a jeering overabundance of testosterone.

The exception in the fog is ringleader Sergeant Deeks (Alexander Skarsgård). Coming in as a replacement for the platoon’s previous “Engage the locals” figurehead, Deeks’ approach to war isn’t just callous, it’s practically primeval. Finding a balance between cold-hearted charisma and shark-eyed brutality, Skarsgård proves an adept and believable motivator, even verging on cult leader. The fact that his performance isn’t really met by any counterbalance leaves the film adrift, even if his singular draw is part of the point.

Admittedly from a distance it’s easy to dole out moral virtue, and Krauss does his best to immerse his audience in the oppressive world faced by Briggman. He’s hemmed in on all sides by his perniciously cajoling squadmates, his sociopathic Sergeant, and the taunting sky-high openness of the desert landscape. The stakes simmer for a little too long, but by the climactic act there’s a genuine sense of paranoid urgency. It’s just a shame there’s not much to care about by that point.

“You look like the fucking Terminator in these things,” the squad’s initial Sergeant chastises a sunglasses-sporting soldier, before the sordid chaos really begins to unfold. By the film’s end there’s scarcely a soldier who isn’t decked out in matte black shades. Krauss’ point about the groupthink mentality in a sauna of red meat-guzzling testicles gives his feature a slightly modern twist, but it’s not enough to elevate the otherwise middling surrounding material. Not new then, but still admirable in its intent, The Kill Team is a stringently moral tale about the bloody final cost of locker room towel flicking.

(a24films.com)

Author rating: 5.5/10

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