(2013) Documentary (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Adam Winfield, Jeremy Morlock, Justin Stoner, Andrew Holmes, Chris Winfield, Emma Winfield, Eric Montalvo. Directed by Dan Krauss
It has been said that war is the absence of morality The truth is that war forces young men and women into moral choices that they simply don’t have the experience to deal with. So many of our young men and women who go to war and are fortunate enough to return home do so with emotional scars and difficulties that plague them in civilian life.
War brings out the worst in people. Perhaps that has never been more true than the case of the Kill Team – the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division of the Army embedded in Afghanistan. Several members of this unit made headlines when they were brought up on charges of killing Afghan civilians without provocation, committing atrocities on their corpses and taking “souvenirs” of human remains.
This documentary follows the trial of Adam Winfield, one of the accused. He comes from a military family – his father Chris is an ex-Marine. Adam is not a large and beefy fellow; he’s barely 100 lbs soaking wet. He was thrust in a situation in country which he didn’t expect – boredom.
As bored young men will do, the team went looking for trouble and started using civilians for target practice. They would dress up the corpses with weapons to make their actions look like “righteous” kills. This bothered Adam and he spoke to his father about it but Adam was also intimidated by Hobbs, whom he claimed threatened to kill him and make his body disappear if Adam were to tell anybody. Adam and his father reported the issue anonymously but there’s no evidence that the Army took their report seriously.
Eventually, someone did blow the whistle – but on the hashish smoking that the team was doing. Justin Stoner reported the drug use to his superior which led to an investigation that unearthed the trophies that the team had taken, including reportedly a necklace made of human fingers. The Army then launched one of the largest investigations in their history and the results made headlines. Adam, who had tried to blow the whistle, was among those indicted.
The subject matter is disturbing enough, but one of the things the filmmakers point out is that these are essentially boys thrown into long stretches of monotony punctuated by occasional life-or-death situations. The intensity of war is something nobody can ever be prepared for and yet we send in the age bracket least able to deal with such things. If you doubt me, just hang around some 18-21 year old guys sometime.
Inasmuch as it is about Adam (in particular) and its cohorts, this is also about what war does to people. Speaking to Adam’s parents, we get a sense that he was a perfectly well-adjusted young man before he was sent to Afghanistan. He came back a little bit broken. The movie is harrowing and a must-see for all politicians who are thinking about how glorious it would be to start another war.
REASONS TO GO: Powerful subject matter. Compelling testimony. Handles the atrocities with delicacy.
REASONS TO STAY: Lots of talking heads and military jargon.
FAMILY VALUES: Adult themes on the nature of war and death.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Winner of the Best Documentary Feature at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/18/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Restrepo
FINAL RATING: 9/10
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