War crime tale let down by shallow take

Nat Wolff (standing) and Alexander Skarsgard (on hammock) in The Kill Team.
Nat Wolff (standing) and Alexander Skarsgard (on hammock) in The Kill Team.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

The true story behind this telling of a true story is that its film-maker, Dan Krauss, is basing this movie on his own 2013 documentary of the same name.

Whether this was a sound decision is now in question because what might have been a riveting account of a war crime is now a shallow depiction of a young man's moral crisis.

Krauss could have picked any number of storytelling styles.

He could have taken an action-movie approach, as Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips, 2013; The Green Zone, 2010), a fellow documentary-maker turned feature film-maker, might have done.

Or he might have gone the route of police or courtroom drama, as the details of this story strongly suggest.

Instead, Krauss has opted for father-son psychodrama, in which two father figures representing good and evil are vying for the soul of Andrew, the young soldier. See war drama Platoon (1986) or the entire Star Wars franchise.

Sergeant Deeks, handsome and manly, is the seductive face of chaos, while Andrew's father William, soft and cautious, is on the side of morality, the harder path to walk.

  • REVIEW / BIOPIC DRAMA

  • THE KILL TEAM (NC16)

    88 minutes/Opens today/2.5 Stars

    The story: Young soldier Andrew Briggman (Nat Wolff) is in Afghanistan fighting the Taleban with the United States Army.

    He suspects that his unit, under the supervision of Sergeant Deeks (Alexander Skarsgard), might be involved in a series of suspicious deaths around the base. Ostracised by the code of silence in his unit, he turns to his father, William (Rob Morrow), for advice. Based on the true story of the Maywand District murders.

Andrew is asked to choose between loyalty to his unit and to his principles, which tell him that even if one's buddies are being killed by combatants who melt into the general population, it is no reason to start targeting civilians.

The moral crossroads story technique requires a depth of psychological insight, character development and visual style that this movie fails to provide, perhaps because Krauss does not want to stray too far from the facts of the case.

And the facts are shocking.

It has been said the many examples of Vietnam War-era war crimes could be blamed on young, ill-trained conscripts dropped into a foreign land.

The crimes illustrated here are no less horrific. What makes them more chilling is that they were carried out by seasoned professional soldiers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2019, with the headline 'War crime tale let down by shallow take'. Print Edition | Subscribe