Operating conventionally but efficiently via some candid talking heads, filmmaker Dan Krauss (“The Death of Kevin Carter”) examines the Maywand District killings of 2010, in which a group of U.S. Army soldiers killed at least three Afghan civilians, including a 15-year-old boy, in Kandahar province, for thrills. The men used the “drop weapon” method (planting a gun on the corpse so it looks as if the killing involved self-defense). Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the ringleader, kept fingers from his victims as souvenirs.
Krauss focuses on the experiences of Specialist Adam Winfield, a platoon member distressed by the killings. Afraid to inform his superiors, he e-chatted with his father, Christopher, a former marine living in Florida, about the incidents. Christopher contacted army offices to report the information. The army took no action.
In Afghanistan, Gibbs and cohorts warned Winfield that snitching could make him their next casualty. Out of fear, Winfield then participated in a killing.
Soon, Winfield, along with other platoon members, was charged with murder.
Krauss interweaves Winfield’s war-zone and postwar experiences, revisiting the Afghanistan scenario and taking viewers inside legal-strategy sessions featuring Winfield’s parents and lawyer.
Running 79 minutes, and lacking, understandably, interviews with military authorities and the story’s chief antagonist, Gibbs, the film is too short on scope and substance to qualify as a searing investigation of how the “kill team” formed, functioned and was allowed to happen.
It also is hazy on why the efforts of Winfield, through his father, to alert army officials to the killings went unaddressed, as well as why Winfield, after making his whistle-blowing attempt, was charged with premeditated murder (a plea deal resulted in a three-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter).
Perhaps attempting to portray Winfield sympathetically, Krauss devotes excessive time to Winfield’s supportive family.
But the filmmaker also delivers extraordinary material and presents a story meriting attention. He captures how regular people, when existing among vile mindsets, can, themselves, start thinking malignantly.
His impressive access to Winfield and additional platoon members, including the chillingly frank Corp. Jeremy Morlock (serving a 24-year sentence for premeditated murder), yields harrowing comments.
Morlock acknowledges, for example, that killing civilians thrilled him and that he regarded Gibbs as a father figure.
His platoon wasn’t the only unit to have committed such crimes, he says — a statement that this special but slim film could have addressed at greater length.
“The Kill Team” received the Golden Gate Award for Best Bay Area Documentary at the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival.
The Kill Team
Starring Adam Winfield, Christopher Winfield, Emma Winfield, Jeremy Morlock
Written by Dan Krauss, Lawrence Lerew, Linda Davis
Directed by Dan Krauss
Running time 1 hour, 19 minutes