As sometimes the two things are confused, it must be stated that just because the story told in a movie is important, the movie is not automatically a “good” movie. In this case, no one would argue that the tale, based on a true story tale of one rogue group of soldiers in Afghanistan in 2006, is irrelevant, but the movie itself is a paint-by-numbers affair with thin characters and seemingly little point outside telling its small story.
Written and directed by Dan Krauss (who also did a documentary based on the same incident), the center figure in “The Kill Team” is a young soldier, Andrew Briggman (Nat Wolff). When a new Staff Sgt. arrives to lead their team, Briggman finds himself at first impressed by, and then deeply scared by, this mean. Sergeant Deeks (Alexander Skarsgård) believes, unlike the team’s previous Staff Sgt., that pretty much every person in Afghanistan is out to kill Americans and, consequently, it is okay to kill them and lie about the exact nature of the deaths in order to make them appear justified.
There is virtually nothing redeeming in Deeks’s nature. He acts like a bad person in front of his soldiers and anyone else. Skarsgård oozes the same smarminess here that he does as Perry on “Big Little Lies.” Deeks is, from the moment he arrives in the film, quite clearly a terrible human being. The only thing Krauss does to even soften the figure is offer up the fact that Deeks has a son – maybe, the logic goes, people will find some redemption in the character knowing that he has a family, that he’s looking—mistakenly though it might be—at some sort of bigger picture. It is a failed ploy. Deeks kills because Deeks likes killing. Deeks convinces his subordinates to kill because Deeks is a bully. He is a human, just like everyone else, but he’s still a bad person.
So, Briggman dithers. He tells his father (Rob Morrow) back in the States that there are problems with Deeks, but he stays put. He considers telling someone in the Army, but never quite brings himself to do it. He is a kid and he’s afraid of the consequences.
“The Kill Team” is less than 90 minutes and really just focused on how Briggman knows things are bad and getting worse but never quite gets anywhere with his concerns. Even Briggman’s father, who insists he’s going to inform CID (US Army Criminal Investigation Command) doesn’t do anything. There’s time for him to forward the info before Briggman backs off the request, but the father doesn’t even though Briggman tells his dad that there’s been a murder.
Why doesn’t the Dad act? Who can say, “The Kill Team” doesn’t really offer him as a character. Why doesn’t Briggman do anything? Fear, but that really doesn’t feel like enough of a motivator to do nothing when his team torments him anyway.
How do so few people see Deeks’s clear malevolence? This is another unanswerable question. Sure, maybe the young members of the team are under his sway, but Deeks has to have superiors and he’s vile through and through. He’s never, except for when he’s talking to his kid, not vile. Did no one ever see that?
Krauss has created a film with one idea at its center – a Staff Sergeant got his team to do bad things and they did them. Things happened as a result (no spoilers here). But, that’s it. The movie doesn’t explore Briggman’s motivations as much as it needs and never gets Deeks past being a paper-thin villain. It is full of scenes that audiences will swear that they’ve watched before. It is an important story and it ought to serve as a reminder to everyone that there are right ways and wrong ways to pursue a war, there are right ways and wrong ways to treat your fellow human beings, but those aren’t ideas that are well explored here. The characters don’t exist within the film to make those explorations happen.
Yes, “The Kill Team,” which is in theaters and on demand October 25, has something important to say, but it fails to wrap the message in a movie that will make anyone want to hear it.
photo credit: A24