A lot has been, and forever will be, said about our war in the Middle East. Be it those who supported it in the initial stages over a decade ago, to those who have voiced outrage and fury over its never ending status, this has become this generation’s great topical touchstone, and will likely go down as one of the most influential and important foreign policy decisions this nation has made, at the very least of this last quarter century.
However, there are a myriad of stories from the front lines that, even as it continues to lead the nightly news daily, have yet to truly be discussed at the lengths it truly requires. One such story is that of the controversial story surrounding a group of soldiers in Afghanistan, becoming known as “The Kill Team.”
The subject of a new documentary from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Daniel Kraus, entitled The Kill Team, this film is both one of 2014’s most enlightening documentaries, and also one of the most rage-building pieces of non-fiction cinema you’ll see all year. Kraus’ film introduces us to a young soldier named Adam Winfield, a fresh faced Private who on his first tour of Afghanistan, witnessed a group of fellow soldiers from his platoon doing something truly despicable. The group goes about, as Winfield and a host of other soldiers from the platoon including a handful involved directly describe, plotting and ultimately committing murder by planting weapons on innocent civilians. With all of his attempts to alert authorities, and also those of his parents, going remarkably unheard, the film shows us the story behind the headlines and puts faces to the men who committed these heinous acts.
As a piece of craft, this is absolutely top notch. Kraus is truly a master of the non-fiction form, and this is as solid a piece of evidence to that claim. The film blends archival footage shot by the soldiers with unforgettable and truly raw interview segments with men ranging from Winfield and his parents, to Army Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, the man who along with Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs (missing from the film), led the movement to commit these acts. These interview segments are to the point and these men have a disarming frankness when discussing these events, which itself digs into the film’s strongest theme.
A haunting look at the ability for basic human morality to evaporate from the human mind, The Kill Team has a blunt nature about itself that it becomes both bewilderingly engaging and utterly infuriating. Be it the lack of a response to the warnings repeated time and time again by Winfield to the description of Gibbs’ intentions to take the remains of human fingers and wait for them to decompose to create a necklace, the film gives little glimpses into the fog of war and how it can blind even those we perceive to be strong human beings. And the film’s greatest attribute? It never lays blame on the men, truly. Gibbs does come off as an off-the-hinges rogue soldier verging of a physical embodiment of evil, but even then, there is some empathy given to him by the film’s want to place blame on a system that tells are men to kill anything that gets in their way. These interview segments are thrilling and enlightening and enraging all in one, and they shine a light on one of the fights that the human soul goes through in the heat of battle.
A film that will not easily be forgotten, this is a fantastic meditation on the war the human spirit goes through during the act of war itself. Kraus’ film is dense and unflinching, a beautiful and unforgettable piece of work that is both utterly enthralling and truly important.