By Carlos Aguilar | Indiewire January 21, 2014 at 4:13AM
"In darkness, abuse takes place," declares Fred Abrahams, one of the members of the Emergency Team (aka E-Team), part of the Human Rights Watch group, whose mission is to investigate and report on crimes committed against the civilian population of war-torn countries and other places where the oppressors revel in secrecy. Focusing on four of these brave individuals, directors Katy Chevigny (“Election Day") and Ross Kauffman (“Born into Brothels") craft an outstandingly gripping and heartbreaking non-fiction achievement.
Putting their lives at risk by illegally smuggling themselves into a war-torn Syria, husband and wife Ole Solvang and Anna Neistat leave behind the safety of their Parisian apartment to uncover the facts about the alarming and horrifying attacks carried out by the Assad regime against his people. Just as the couple interviews a family victim of said violence in the opening frames of the film, instant desperation takes over as the conversation must be paused when the military aircrafts surround the area with intentions of bombing the neighborhood for no other reason but to terrorize.
Chevigny refuses to utilize the safety of a talking-heads approach; on the contrary, the footage from the field missions develops an incredible tension. Every second feels as if it could be the last one for this duo of fearless global investigators, yet their objective is always clear: to draw attention to the situation in order to push for political pressure.
Being part of an independent organization, the E-Team members have no allegiance to any government or a political agenda, making them free to criticize and stand up for what's right. Having said that, they are not exempt from the media’s attacks and accusations that they have been paid to selectively target systems opposed to Western interests.
With the knowledge that the Russian government is one of few that supports the Assad regime, Anna sets up a press conference in Moscow to unveil their findings from Syria. It's there that she's insulted by local journalists and blamed for engineering a conspiracy against the Middle Eastern nation. Still, being as candid and confident as she is, she takes it with a grain of salt, and never loses sight of her goal.
A similar story unfolds in Libya, during Gaddafi’s final days in power, but is explored with the expertise of Peter Bouckaert — a brilliant E-Team member who employs his knowledge of weaponry to expose the regime’s unlawful practices. He digs into hidden atrocities, including makeshift shacks where hundreds of prisoners were shot to death and burned, and apartment buildings in which the blood-covered walls testify of the evil that once ran the country.
Towards the end of the film, the aforementioned Fred Abrahams narrates his experience when confronting the repulsive Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic face to face during his trial in the international court for crimes against humanity. Abrahams’ unshakable devotion for the cause helps him collect crucial evidence against the arrogant leader, whose plans of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo were finally denounced.
Perhaps this particular case conveys the real importance of the team's arduous labor. His data recollection goes beyond the pages of a report on the media, and instead emphasizes those capable of taking visible action. Soon after the atrocious images were printed on the New York Times, the U.S. government had no choice but to respond.
Following the daily lives of their subjects, the filmmakers give the public a chance to connect with them, which makes the harsh imagery more palatable. When they take a break from their high stakes jobs they're shown as regular people living through normal routines. Although the bourgeois lifestyles they enjoy run counter to their mission, it's perhaps this social divide that encourages them to keep on fighting for those who have no voice.
Powerful and shocking but with enough humanity from its subjects to add tender moments of hope, the "E-Team" is a fascinating look at how information can be the most effective tool to avoid indifference. These real life superheroes wield the truth as their high caliber weapon.
Criticwire Grade: A-
HOW WILL IT PLAY? The activist slant and compelling filmmaking suggest a healthy theatrical release with even stronger prospects on VOD.