Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sean Kelly

Hot Docs 2013: My Thoughts on The Kill Team


At one point in Dan Krauss’ war crime documentary The Kill Team, one of the film’s subjects has this to day about the situation he is in:  “From the day you join, to the day you’re out, your job as infantry is to kill everything that gets in your way.  Why are you pissed off when we do it?”  That quote effectively sums up the themes of The Kill Team, which focuses on a platoon charged with killing civilians for sport in Afghanistan and the military’s efforts to quickly resolve the issue, which includes punishing the one soldier brave enough to come forward.

Much of the film is focused on Specialist Adam Winfield, who came clean about his platoon’s war crimes, only be charged with murder himself.  The story goes that Winfield’s platoon, under the leadership of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, committed three murders over the course of five months in early 2010.  The soldiers used “drop weapons” to make it appear like they had just cause for killing the innocents.  Winfield was heavily disturbed by the events, but was also scared to speak up, in fear of retaliation by Gibbs.  By the time “The Kill Team” was finally caught, Winfield found himself implicated in the third murder, which he was forced to participate in.

While Adam Winfield’s story makes up the main emotional core of The Kill Team, the main goal of the film appears to be examining the cloudy morality of soldiers.  Let’s face it, when we think of solders in war, we think of gung-ho heroes in epic battles against the enemy.  We don’t think of people who are trained to kill, yet are restrained by rules about who to kill and when.  The film establishes that the soldiers, who expected to be in firefights every day, found themselves bored with the realities of being stationed in Afghanistan, which had them doing more humanitarian work than fighting.  Then came along an apparent sociopath like Gibbs, who was described as having skull tattoos on his legs, representing every person that he killed.  Gibbs was the only member of the platoon not interviewed for the documentary, presumably because he was already in jail for his crimes.

Much time is spent addressing the military’s response to “The Kill Team.”  As stated in the quote I opened this review with, the military breeds these men to be killers, yet does not take responsibility when they end up killing for the wrong reasons.  No officers were charged in these murders and it seemed like the military just wanted these events to go away.  In the case of Adam Winfield, none of his concerns, which began shortly after the first murder, received any action until his platoon was caught and he found himself implicated in one of the murders, though his charge was eventually reduced to involuntary manslaughter for not taking action to stop the murders.  Winfield has maintained that if his did speak up, that he would have been killed by Gibb.  From this aspect, the film is just as much about bullying, than it is about war crimes.

Overall, I thought that The Kill Teams was a very well done examination of the morality of soldiers.  While the platoon ended up being vilified by the media, they maintain that they were the ones who got caught and that there is “always a Gibb.”  There is also the point made that, in real life, war is nothing like it is in the movies – it is just a bunch of guys with guns.


Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).