Documentarian Dan Krauss makes his dramatic feature directorial debut with a narrative adaptation of his 2013 documentary “The Kill Team,” about a group of American soldiers who were convicted in 2010 of the premeditated murders of Afghan civilians. Krauss’ film effectively details the violent homosocial camaraderie among the young male soldiers, and the cult of personality around their magnetically terrifying ringleader, Staff Sgt. Deeks (Alexander Skarsgaard).
“The Kill Team” is seen through the eyes and conscience of a young private, Briggman (Nat Wolff) ,who is eager to prove himself, though he’s unable to pass Deeks’ increasingly violent tests. As he witnesses his friends get sucked into the murder plot and cover up, Briggman realizes he must inform someone, though it puts his life in imminent danger.
The first half of Krauss’ film feels like any standard fictionalized narrative we’ve seen of this war, but as “The Kill Team” unfolds into a suspenseful paranoid survival tale, it takes on new urgency, in its simmering standoff between the icy Deeks and the powerless, yet staunch Briggman. But Skarsgaard’s controlled demeanor is almost too cold for the psychopathic Deeks (a fictionalized version of Calvin Gibbs).
Krauss digs into the murky, uneasy morality of wartime, but “The Kill Team” doesn’t quite convey the brutality of these crimes with the same power that news accounts or even Krauss’ own documentary have. If anything, in the resistance to make him a monster, it almost lets Deeks off too easy.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 25, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD