“The Kill Team”
Afghanistan, 2009. A squad of American soldiers goes on routine patrols, but it’s a complicated situation. They would prefer a pitched battle, against other uniformed soldiers. But what they get instead is running into an IED planted on the road. And when they try to question civilians, of course they get no cooperation. And bringing along an interpreter doesn’t help. They find themselves in remote, isolated, areas, suddenly being fired upon. But then the unknown attacker fades into the civilian population, and the G.I.s never even know who’s been shooting at them. Their lives are at risk and they know it. That’s why they were only reluctantly listening when their Sergeant tells them to smile and wave to children. Make a more benign presence. And then their Sergeant steps on an IED.
When they are assigned a new Staff Sergeant, Sergeant Deeks (Alexander Skarsgard), he quickly assures them that he can’t replace their previous Sergeant. He also asks them if they want to be warriors. They all yell “Huah” because that’s what you’re expected to do. Deeks also tells them that if the civilian they’re questioning isn’t the one planting the IED, he knows who is. That means they’re all guilty. And they’re all the enemy. And they deserve to be treated accordingly.
The new recruit, Andrew Briggman (Nat Wolff) remembers his father telling him, on the eve of his departure, how proud he was of him to be willing to serve. But this kind of service was not what Briggman had in mind. The next time they’re questioning a civilian about the location of an IED, and he claims he doesn’t know, Deeks just shoots him. And then, one by one, he encourages the rest of the squad to follow his lead the next time there’s an interrogation. So they will all be culpable. And so nobody would really gain anything by ratting out on the others.
Briggman is torn up about this. He doesn’t want to participate. He doesn’t want to be the snitch, either. He already perceives that that he’s the outcast in the unit, because several of them get high regularly, on illegal drugs they’ve somehow obtained on base. He doesn’t want to become a druggie, either. And he’s wary of what some of his “buddies” would do if he blew the whistle on them.
Writer and Director Dan Krauss makes us feel we’re right in there with the sand grit in our eyes and the desperate sense of isolation these soldiers are facing daily. They’re in a hostile environment with the best weaponry money can buy, but without the emotional tools to cope with living “in extremis” at such a young age, and with so little support. It’s “based on true events.” In real life, the whole squad is indicted, the recruit pleads to involuntary manslaughter, and the Sergeant gets life.
There are no winners here. But there’s plenty of gut-wrenching drama about the cost of waging war on the souls and psyches of the soldiers we send to fight. It’s the kind of story that no one wants to see, but it needs to be told. And it needs to be remembered the next time we decide to send young soldiers in harm’s way. The harm can come from unexpected places.