Posted by Alia Haddad on April 24, 2013 at 7:34 am
Well, the documentary sure has been having a great time at film festivals this year. At Sundance, The Crash Reel and Stories We Tell were hits among a crop of just okay narrative features. And now at Tribeca, one documentary in particular, The Kill Team, seems to be the talk of the town. And after seeing the film in question, I finally know why.
The Kill Team, the latest nonfiction film by director Dan Krauss, tells the true-life (duh) story of the group (platoon? I never did learn the lingo) of US soldiers who decided to kill innocent people for sport while stationed in Afghanistan. The plot alone sounds incredibly intriguing, but throw in first hand accounts from the people convicted of murder and you got yourself a jaw-dropping, cannot look away documentary. Even so, this could all be chalked up to hype if the movie itself wasn’t great. But thankfully it was.
Krauss presents such a nuanced, complicated story that believing its validity does not really ever come into play. As a documentary, this feeling of of validity is a good thing because it allows us critics to review the film as we would any other fiction film. Moreover, to be honest, Krauss’s narrative was so strong that I forget I was watching a documentary until the “what happened next” came up on screen at the end of the film. This being the case, allow me to discuss what this movie did right.
First, as I already touched upon, its narrative was incredibly strong. Amazingly, Krauss succeeded in pairing this strong plot with even stronger character development. I know, I know, how does one achieve this in a documentary? Well, the editing was such that the plot not only kept you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire film, but the characters, er real people, started off as one-sided murderers and ended as (well, still as murderers) but ones with stories I had never considered.
Second, the interviews were especially strong. While this is rather unique to a documentary, they didn’t make the narrative any less convincing. In fact, just the opposite. They were done in such a way that did not take the viewer out of the picture, but instead put her right back into it.
Finally, Krauss did a great job in presenting the facts of the case in a seemingly unbiased way, through which he hinted at the plausibility of this type of murder not being isolated to this one incident in the military. This is where I believe Krauss succeeded the most. He did not beat the viewer over the head with this implication, but rather subtly suggests that we are witnessing only one case that managed to come to light.