January 31, 2015


Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington, 2010
Filmmakers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington follow the 2nd Platoon of Battle Company through the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan in 2010, at that time regarded as the deadliest place on Earth.

Restrepo, named after a fallen platoon medic, is basically the equivalent of strapping a GoPro camera to a filmmaker’s helmet and sending him into intense action with actual American soldiers in Afghanistan. The most surprising element is the sense of accessibility that you have with this movie. It doesn’t give you images of the conflict from a distance. You are literally crouched behind the sandbags. You are sitting in the plywood bunkers. You are running alongside the troops through the rough and uninviting terrain. You see what they see. Suspicious figures running out of the seemingly ancient dwellings. The bullets that land a little too close for comfort. There is a sense of relaxation with the 2nd Platoon of Battle company, as they appear to be quite loose in front of the camera. During their shifts in the field, they are locked in to their mission. But after, when are reflecting, they discuss the impact that the war has had on them quite openly. They are candid about the losses they have suffered. They discuss their upbringing. And they also bust on each other. During periods of downtime they take advantage of opportunities to listen or play to music. It’s always interesting to see bits of our Western culture seap into the battlefield, like when the soldiers put on a cheesy pop song and dance to it. There was some of this in HBO’s Generation Kill. Sort of like if Britney Spears was playing in the opening credits of Apocalypse Now. An odd contrasting effect. There is also something about it that feels identifiable. Probably because they are all young men and it humanizes them, portraying them more naturally instead of robotic mercenaries like some media outlets incorrectly portray them to be. You get a clear sense of the pride that they have in their work. They are undeniably doing hard work. When they manage to gain an advance and set up The Restrepo outpost in the highly contested zone, it’s a big accomplishment and they don’t hesitate to acknowledge it. Unfortunately death is a part of war, and is a part of this documentary. When it occurs it hits hard and you feel the weight of it. The loss of Doc Restrepo is felt by all, and his legacy lives on through the rest of the film and of course beyond. But one of the most inspiring elements is how they are able to acknowledge the loss, fight through the grief, and put one foot in front of the other and move on to the next mission. 

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