You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tribeca Film Review: ‘The Kill Team’

An American soldier in Afghanistan copes with his squad’s murderous conduct in Dan Krauss’ drama, based on his documentary of the same name.

Dan Krauss
Nat Wolff, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Long, Jonathan Whitesell, Brian “Sene” Marc, Rob Morrow.

Rated R  1 hour 27 minutes

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6196936/

Atrocities don’t exist in a vacuum, and “The Kill Team” is most valuable — and chillingly effective — as an exposé of the means by which honorable young military men grow comfortable with perpetrating heinous crimes. Based on his 2013 documentary of the same name (and, thus, a true story), writer-director Dan Krauss’ narrative retelling depicts the methodical murderous inculcation of a young American soldier in 2010 Afghanistan, led by a committed performance from Nat Wolff and a scarily sociopathic Alexander Skarsgård. Those star turns should help make the difficult film an easier sell to mainstream audiences when, after its Tribeca Film Festival premiere, it receives a theatrical release courtesy of A24.

As with the earlier nonfiction version, Krauss’ film concerns the Maywand District murders, in which a “kill team” of U.S. soldiers stationed in the Kandahar Valley executed a number of Afghan civilians and then covered up their crimes by staging the scenes to look like attacks. The writer/director doesn’t deviate from the facts of the case, but he has changed its players’ names, beginning with protagonist Andrew Briggman (Wolff). Eager to make a difference, he’s a typical rah-rah kid, albeit one with a conscience that won’t keep quiet. Its voice grows louder after the arrival of new Staff Sergeant Deeks (Skarsgård), who unlike his predecessor, isn’t interested in winning hearts and minds so much as eradicating any threats to his men’s safety.

With a cool, calm demeanor that belies his sadistic tendencies (initially hinted at via his leg tattoos, which denote his numerous kills), Skarsgard’s Deeks is a slyly sinister authority figure. “The Kill Team” spends its first half dramatizing how Deeks’ conduct — and the situation at hand — repeatedly pushes Briggman to think that a homicidal ethos is not only justified, but warranted. “We kill people. That’s what we do,” Deeks counsels his young charges, while initiating their assignments with comments like, “Good hunting!” and, “Who’s ready to have some fun?” By casting their behavior as both enjoyable and writing-history noble, Deeks reinforces the idea that slaughter is okay and, moreover, righteous — a notion bolstered by the routine sight of mutilated soldiers, as well as anecdotes about normal-looking Arab families driving cars full of explosives.

Popular on Variety

Those impressions soon compel Briggman to accept his comrade’s comment, “You don’t win a war zip-tying people,” which has already been taken to heart by fellow grunt Rayburn (Adam Long). “The Kill Team” is best when plumbing the psychological stew that begat the Maywand District murders, as Briggman’s mounting disapproval of his squad’s tactics is muddled by his jealousy over Deeks’ selection of Rayburn as his new pet, and also his own fear — once he begins messaging his former Marine dad (Rob Morrow) about what’s taking place — of being discovered as a rat. Complicity soon follows, further complicating matters.

As Briggman’s paranoia escalates, so too does “The Kill Team’s” suspense, although not enough to push the material into truly harrowing territory. Stéphane Fontaine’s cinematographic vision of this arid landscape is relatively familiar and straightforward, and Zacarías M. de la Riva’s score is most notable during those rare moments when it strains too hard to elicit an emotional response. Those familiar with this story won’t find any novel twists here, but Krauss astutely conveys the literal and moral quagmires produced by such military situations. In that cause, he’s aided by an increasingly disillusioned, confused, and terrified Wolff, and an intensely menacing Skarsgård, who — flashing spiteful smiles beneath a ’70s-era mustache, and exuding a relaxed confidence that belies his coiled-spring viciousness — proves that wickedness sometimes comes in friendly fatherly packages.

Tribeca Film Review: 'The Kill Team'

Reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative), April 29, 2019. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 87 MIN.

Production: An A24 release of a Corner Stone Films, Temple Hill Entertainment, Nostromo Pictures production. Producers: Adrián Guerra, Isaac Klausner, Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey. Executive producers: Dan Krauss, Miguel Angel Faura, Núria Valls, Alison Thompson, Mark Gooder. Co-producer: Ben Smith.

Crew: Director, writer: Dan Krauss. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Stéphane Fontaine. Editor: Franklin Peterson. Music: Zacarías M. de la Riva.

With: Nat Wolff, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Long, Jonathan Whitesell, Brian “Sene” Marc, Rob Morrow.

More Film

  • 'Chez Jolie Coiffure' Review: Hair Salon

    Film Review: 'Chez Jolie Coiffure'

    Shortly before the credits roll on “Chez Jolie Coiffure,” a customer in the eponymous hair salon asks her stylist, Sabine, if she has any plans to go home this year. Out of context, this sounds like the kind of standard, empty small talk one often makes while having one’s hair cut: what good movies you’ve [...]

  • Best Netflix original movies

    The 10 Best Netflix Movies of 2019

    This time last year, Netflix estimated that it would release 90 original movies in 2019. At the time, the number seemed outrageous: That’s more than four times the number Warner Bros. made in the same 12-month period — and more than any human would ever care to watch. Guess what: Turns out that 90 was a [...]

  • Luc Besson EuropaCorp Searching for Hit

    EuropaCorp Posts 50% Drop in Revenues in Half-Year Results

    Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp has posted a 50% drop in revenues during the first half of the 2019-20 financial year even as the financially ailing company tries to finalize a rescue deal with its junior lender, Vine Alternative Investments. EuropaCorp’s revenues fell to €40.7 million ($45 million) during the six months ending Sept. 30. The company [...]

  • Richard Jewell Olivia Wilde

    'Richard Jewell': Kathy Scruggs' Roommate, Family Angered by Journalist's Portrayal

    Penny Furr was Kathy Scruggs’ roommate when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter got a major scoop involving the investigation into the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. Scruggs had discovered that Richard Jewell, the security guard who had evacuated the area before the bomb exploded, saving dozens of lives in the process, was a suspect in the attack. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content