Tribeca Film Festival Review: The Kill Team Is Disturbing, But A Must-See

By Kristy Puchko 2013-04-17 05:54:11discussion comments
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You probably remember hearing about the inhuman exploits of The Kill Team, a band of US infantrymen who intentionally murdered Afghan civilians without cause, then planted drop weapons to cover up their actions. The media reported these men killed for fun, bragging rights, manufactured honor, and repulsive war trophies. But The Kill Team documentary that speaks with four members of this vilified unit reveals there's more to it than the headlines let on. Never excusing the Team's actions, and forcing audience members to face the grisly consequences of their jingoistic bravado, documentarian Dan Krauss explores how the atrocities of the Kill Team committed seemed less than heinous under the never-ending threat of Taliban attack, and how these killers were brought to (arguable) justice.

"Why am I the only one who's not okay with this? Why is it just me?" recounts Private Adam Winfield, his eyes hollowed from the horrors he's seen. Not horrors of combat, but of his brothers in arms, who plotted the murder of innocent Afghans to get the kills they felt were their due. In this harrowing and must-see documentary, Winfield is as close as we get to a hero. After the first murder, he emailed his father—an Army vet—asking for advice on what to do. Winfield couldn't turn to his superior, a brute called Gibbs, because it was Gibbs who was schooling soldiers in how to drop weapons and avoid suspicion. Through Winfield's emails, Krauss displays the young soldier's mounting concerns, and how everything went from bad to worse.

Early on, Krauss reveals Winfield is being charged in one of the three murder counts against The Kill Team. From there, this riveting doc plays like a mystery, unfolding how a would-be whistleblower became an accused murderer. Interviews with Winfield and his parents—who feel their son is a scapegoat for the Army's higher-ranking officers—tell a story of a boy who dreamed of being a patriot. At 17, Winfield had to cheat his enlistment exam, chugging a gallon of water to make weight. He signed up during wartime, looking to change the world for the better. By all accounts, he was a small but scrappy soldier who held his own against the bulkier infantrymen in the field. So how did this happen?

Between the Winfields' interviews and interviews with his fellow soldiers, a picture of how comes into focus, but offers little solace. "We're not the only ones who did this," one soldier sneers, "We're just the ones who got caught." Watching The Kill Team, Winfield's impossible decision is clear. Should he say something and risk being murdered by Gibbs and his bloodthirsty gang? Or should he just wait out the couple of short months before he was back Stateside, where whistleblowing would be less likely to end in his demise? As Krauss unveils Winfield's fateful choices, I wanted to stop the tape, make this a narrative film and give him a rewrite for the kind of big, showy, brave turning point we root for in narrative movies. But The Kill Team offers an unblinking look at one of the horrors of war we wish we could overlook, how men can become monsters, and aspiring heroes can fall victim to fear. It's hard to watch, but important to witness.
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