Tribeca Film Review: ‘The Kill Team’

A true-life horror story, Dan Krauss' chilling war-is-hell expose is must-see viewing

A true-life horror story, Dan Krauss’ docu examines the self-styled “Kill Team,” an infantry platoon that intentionally murdered innocent Afghani civilians, surreptitiously dropping weapons alongside the corpses to claim their victims were terrorists. Krauss deliberately maintains a very narrow focus, limiting his subjects to a few of the soldiers implicated and those involved in their trial, with no extraneous experts, activists or commentators intruding. In this closed-off world, the logical illogic of the soldiers’ actions becomes eerily clear as their Army training and their role as “peacekeepers” violently conflict. Many will regard this chilling war-is-hell expose as must-see viewing.  

Occupying the film’s center is Spc. Adam Winfield, a young private who in 2009 witnessed the murder of an unarmed civilian. Shocked to discover he was the only one perturbed by this action, he received death threats from other platoon members, particularly from their self-appointed leader in extracurricular crime, a certain Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.

Winfield contacted his ex-Marine father, who anonymously informed the Army, which promptly did nothing. Winfield was then forced to take part in the slaughter of an Afghani man (one of three murders the film delves into). When the story of the Kill Team finally broke, triggered not by the murders themselves but by reported hashish use, would-be whistleblower Winfield was charged with first-degree murder, even though he was acting in fear for his life.

Helmer Krauss spends extensive time with Winfield and his parents, who are outraged by his murder charge.  He follows the family and its attorney through the various stages of the ensuing trial, Winfield’s story furnishing the docu with a clear beginning, middle and end. Winfield makes a likely hero, a teen trying to do the right thing but caught, through little fault of his own, in an impossible situation. Far more problematic is the case of Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, an apparently fine, upstanding young man who became Gibbs’ willing accomplice.

The main strength of Krauss’ film lies in the soldiers’ ability, especially in Morlock’s case, to articulate the circumstances that fed this otherwise inexplicable drive to slay those who were obviously innocent. Morlock’s description of his intense training in killing and the unutterable boredom of days in the desert, punctuated by the threat of violence from IEDs and from ordinary-looking Afghanis, evokes a credible crucible for trigger-happy resentment, directed back at the hostile land and its “ungrateful” inhabitants.

Krauss never interviews the apparent sociopath at the head of the unit, who sported skull tattoos and a human finger-bone necklace as trophies of his kills (as seen in photos), and whose vision of war as a competitive scoring game clearly infected those under his command.

The Kill Team

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Center (competing), April 6, 2013. (In Tribeca Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 79 MIN.

An f/8 Filmworks production in association with ITVS, Motto Pictures. Produced by Dan Krauss, Linda Davis. Executive producers, Deborah Hoffmann, Julie Goldman.

Directed by Dan Krauss. Written by Krauss, Lawrence Lerew, Linda Davis. Camera (color), Krauss; editor, Lerew; music, Justin Melland; sound, Dan Olmsted; sound designer, Jim Lebrecht.

With: Adam Winfield, Jeremy Morlock, Andrew Holmes, Justin Stoner, Christopher Winfield, Emma Winfield, Eric Montalvo.

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Tribeca Film Review: 'The Kill Team'

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