“The Kill Team” is a passable war drama film which does not show or tell me anything particularly new about what has been committed during War on Terror. Partially based on a shocking real-life case of war crime in 2010, the movie attempts to present a tense moral drama to reflect on, but it is hampered a lot by its rather weak story and characters, and the overall result is mostly flat despite several intense moments coupled with effective mood and performance.
The story of the movie is mainly told via the viewpoint of Andrew Briggman (Nat Wolff), an ordinary American lad ready to serve his country just like his marine father did. After we get a brief glimpse into his private life during the opening scene, the movie promptly moves to Afghanistan along with him, and we soon see him going through his first field mission along with his platoon members at a village located somewhere in Kandahar.
Unfortunately, they happen to lose their platoon leader due to an unexpected tragic incident during that field mission, and they subsequently get their new platoon leader. Looking quite intense and serious, Sergeant Deeks (Alexander Skarsgård) instantly grabs the attention of his soldiers right from when he arrives at their military base, and Briggman becomes eager to be Deeks’ second-in-command just like some of his platoon members. After Briggman shows that he does have the right stuff, Deeks accordingly chooses Briggman as his right-hand guy, and Briggman is ready to watch and learn anything from Deeks, who surely has had lots of combat experience as doing his duties in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.
However, Briggman gradually becomes uncomfortable with what Deeks does in the name of war and country. In Deeks’ view, any of local civilians is a potential enemy to be eliminated, and Briggman soon witnesses how far his direct superior is willing to go. When he confides to Deeks on how much he hates their enemies and how willing he is to kill them all for those fallen comrades of theirs, Deeks shows him a local guy detained in the base for some reason, and then he suggests that Briggman should beat this guy hard for revenge. Briggman eventually hesitates, but he feels tempted nonetheless, and Deeks is ready to push him further in next time.
As a result, Briggman finds himself in a more conflicted status. When a civilian happens to get killed while Briggman and his platoon members are doing another field mission, he suspects that one of his platoon members deliberately shot that civilian under Deeks’ permission, and, of course, his suspicion turns out to be right as he later comes to witness another unjust killing. When he confronts Deeks not long after that, Deeks flatly justifies his heinous deeds without any remorse, and the other platoon members have no problem with going along with that.
Briggman feels that he should report this serious case of war crime as soon as possible, but he only comes to be reminded of how difficult it is to do that within a military base isolated in the middle of barren field. When he contacts with his father for help, his father is certainly ready to call the criminal investigation division of the US Army, but Deeks turns out to be capable of pulling some strings for his safety, and Briggman becomes more scared and pressured when Deeks demands more from him besides his silence. He cannot possibly trust anyone in the military base, and there is a tensely ambiguous scene where he nervously walks toward target boards with his several armed platoon members behind his back.
However, the screenplay by director/writer Dan Krauss, who previously presented the same subject via the 2013 documentary film of the same name, does not engage us much. While many of key scenes in the film are dryly presented with admirable verisimilitude, the Krauss’ lean screenplay is rather deficient in terms of story and characters, and it merely trudges from one point after another without generating enough narrative momentum to hold our attention. Even during a crucial scene later in the story where Briggman is pushed toward the point of no return, the movie feels trite and predictable, and what eventually follows after that point is disappointingly anti-climactic to say the least.
Nat Wolff and Alexander Skarsgård did as much as they could do with their respective archetype roles. Wolff, who drew my attention for the first time with his solid supporting turn in “The Fault in Our Stars” (2014), is effective in his earnest performance, and he is complemented well by Skarsgård, who is effortless in generating considerable intensity on the screen whenever he appears on the screen. Some of the best scenes in the film come from the increasingly strained interactions between their characters, and Skarsgård is utterly chilling especially when his character casually lets Briggman fallen into an impossible situation which will considerably affect Briggman in one way or another.
In conclusion, “The Kill Game” is fairly solid in technical aspects, and Krauss, who was previously Oscar-nominated for his excellent short documentary film “Extremis” (2016), made a competent feature film debut on the whole, but the movie does not leave much impression on me in the end. To be frank with you, there are a bunch of better modern war films and documentaries out there such as “The Hurt Locker” (2008) and “Restrepo” (2010), and I assure you that you will have a more interesting time with them.