Scott Anderson’s review published on Letterboxd:
There is a sequence during the Netflix Original documentary E-Team that felt very familiar to me at first glance, and I realized its striking similarities to a moment during the recent film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 in which Katniss explores her former home after bombs had turned everything she found familiar to rubble. In E-Team an area that had been a place of relative normalcy only an hour earlier is now completely destroyed by bombs from above, an aerial strike on a residential location, women and children wounded, innocent lives lost.
That particular moment in The Hunger Games is effective and emotionally stirring, sure, but in the end it is fiction. I get swept up in the narrative and buy into the story, but I can go home knowing that no actual harm was done. The destruction is a set designed by Hollywood, the bodies and bones all props placed carefully by professionals. What we see in E-Team is far too real, and it is painfully haunting. The documentary focuses on a team of people that are sent into areas that recently experienced horrific tragedies deemed emergencies, and the goal of the team is to investigate whether human rights of those impacted have been violated.
The cameras are rolling constantly almost like a found footage film, only this footage actually is legitimate and I considered the possibility at times that it would need to be found rather than returned safely. During a sequence or two, the camera is put down and not focused on any particular subject as planes fly overhead and bombs are being dropped nearby. It sounds awful to label such atrocities as entertaining because obviously I would prefer humanity wouldn't suffer such awfulness in order for me to see it, but it is during these tense moments that E-Team is nearly overwhelmingly compelling, as my eyes couldn't leave the screen even if I had tried.
I had to remind myself that the real point of the documentary isn't the atrocities themselves but to understand these people who risk their lives to investigate them, so while spending a decent amount of time focusing on the quieter moments of their lives away from the war zones may not have been as interesting, the decision to do so was necessary for the film to achieve its goals. I actually think the real flaw of E-Team is that it could have been a little bit longer, had a little bit more meat on its bones, because the subject matter felt heavier than the sub-90 minute running time was capable of showcasing.
While documentaries such as this or the other Netflix originals I have seen like Virunga or last years incredible work The Square aren't particularly fun to watch in terms of their subject matter or message, they are important and riveting films that deserve our attention. I get to sit on this couch in a warm home in front of a beautiful LED screen. The least I can do is better understand what is happening in the world outside these walls and appreciate why these people went to such great and dangerous lengths to have these films made.