THE KILL TEAM
(Spain/US - 2019)
documentary by filmmaker Dan Krauss, chronicling a war crimes case where Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Diggs and four soldiers in his platoon were charged with murdering Afghan civilians in Kandahar in 2009. This new film sporting the title THE KILL TEAM is a narrative dramatization of those same events, starring Alexander Skarsgard in the Diggs role (here renamed "Deeks"), and written and directed by...Dan Krauss?! It's a mystery why Krauss saw fit to revisit the same material in fictionalized form so soon after (this was shot in 2017), other than giving potentially meaty roles to Skarsgard and Nat Wolff (also one of a dozen credited producers), the latter playing "Andrew Briggman," a rechristened version of initial whistleblower SPC Adam Winfield. THE KILL TEAM gets off to a good enough start with a shocking opening sequence where the platoon's staff sergeant is killed by an IED, leading to Deeks' arrival. Deeks is stern and no-nonsense, and tells the men "Give me your loyalty, and I'll give every one of you a chance to be a warrior." But he treats them well, grills steaks for them made to order, and winkingly looks the other way when he catches some of them smoking hash. Such actions form a tentative bond and allow him to insidiously manipulate the men under his command, some of whom already regard the Afghan civilians as "goat fuckers" and don't need much of an encouraging push to go along with whatever Deeks orders or even suggests. Briggman is rattled enough by what he sees that he sends instant messages about the goings-on to his military vet dad (Rob Morrow), who contacts US Army CID. Of course, it gets back to Deeks that someone close to him is talking and it doesn't take long for the guys to figure out who it is.
Known as the Maywand District Murders, the case provided ample riveting and shocking material in a documentary form but struggles to justify its existence as a narrative feature film that feels plodding even under 90 minutes. Skarsgard is fine and Wolff continues to demonstrate the credibility he unexpectedly showed in 2019's equally unseen SEMPER FI, but unless you're a fan of either of the two stars (or a Rob Morrow completist), there's really no reason to watch this when Krauss did a much more effective job the first time out. A24 didn't seem to see a lot of HURT LOCKER-type potential for THE KILL TEAM--the kind of well-intentioned film that just dies instantly once it leaves the secure confines of the festival circuit--giving it no push whatsoever with a release on just 39 screens and VOD. (R, 87 mins)
(Australia/UK/US - 2019)
THE ODD ANGRY SHOT, the experience of Australian soldiers in the Vietnam War has been generally unexplored in the movies. Far removed from the post-PLATOON explosion of the late '80s and at a time when the interest in Vietnam cinema has tapered off in favor of WWII or the various conflicts in the Middle East (like THE KILL TEAM above), DANGER CLOSE chronicles The Battle of Long Tan, which occurred on August 18, 1966, a day that has since been declared Vietnam Veterans Day in Australia. Its very setting of the Vietnam War almost gives it a throwback feel that's a bit dampened by some CGI and other obvious digital accompaniment, but director Kriv Stenders does an otherwise admirable job of shooting the battle sequences in a coherent fashion, avoiding the hyper-editing and the shaky-cam that a current Hollywood take on the same subject would've doubtlessly utilized. The Battle of Long Tan took place on a rubber plantation where Australian and New Zealand forces were outnumbered 108 to approximately 2000, and running out of ammo as they battled an onslaught of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces that surrounded them and kept coming from all sides.
Delta Company was led by Australian Maj. Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel of VIKINGS), a generally unlikable and arrogant hardass who frequently complains to his C.O. Brigadier Oliver David Jackson (Richard Roxburgh) that he needs a more worthy assignment than overseeing a group of mostly conscripts averaging 20 years of age. Of course, after fighting with these "kids" and seeing their courage and sacrifice, Smith has a change of heart and is proud of them. That's about the extent of the character building in DANGER CLOSE (COLLATERAL screenwriter Stuart Beattie was one of five script contributors), which juggles a lot of characters who eventually start to blur (Luke Bracey as Sgt. Bob Buick, Sean Lynch as Sgt. Paddy Todd, and Daniel Webber as Pvt. Paul Large get a little more screen time and development than the rest). A Nancy Sinatra/"These Boots are Made for Walkin'" needle-drop provides a little too on-the-nose FULL METAL JACKET reference, but while DANGER CLOSE doesn't break any new ground in Vietnam cinema, it's well-made, sufficiently harrowing in spots, and it marks a long overdue tribute to the brave Australian and Kiwi forces who fought at Long Tan. (R, 118 min)