The Kill Team (2013)

Directed by Dan Krauss. f/8 Filmworks, Motto Pictures.

A group of American soldiers in Afghanistan shoot dead three civilians and pose for photos with their bodies. One man in their platoon, Specialist Adam Winfield, asks his father for help with exposing the war crimes. But when word finally gets out, Winfield is among those arrested. The Kill Team examines how and why the soldiers murdered three people, seemingly in cold blood.

The Kill Team uses talking heads and photographs to piece together what happened in Afghanistan, as the camera follows Winfield and his family as they prepare for his trial. It is visually simple, but not dull. The camerawork is beautifully crisp, the editing masterful. It is a an example of how, when done well, a film does not need many bells and whistles to make it appealing.

The Kill Team’s greatest strength is its interviews. Winfield’s former squad mates are upfront and mostly unashamed about killing innocent civilians for fun. They say other American soldiers were committing similar crimes in Afghanistan, they were just the unlucky ones who got caught. It is chilling.

It was interesting to learn after watching the film that the director Dan Krauss had done pro bono work for Winfield’s defence team and that he shared a bond with the family. Perhaps the filmmakers would not have gained such access to the Winfields if Krauss did not know them, but the relationship should have been acknowledged on-screen.

The Kill Team is mostly sympathetic towards Winfield, but sometimes the camera lingers just long enough on his face to plant a seed of doubt about him in the mind of the viewer. There is an ambiguity there that could have been further explored.

But The Kill Team is still a very good film — shocking, probing and exceptionally well made. It will be interesting to see how many more documentaries emerge from that very long war in Afghanistan, where compared with Vietnam, media access to soldiers is limited.