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Friday, August 27, 2010

A Solid War Doc Can Be Found At Restrepo

Restrepo: 4 out of 5 Stars
Dan Kearney: The deadliest place on earth, the Korangal valley
It's seemingly tough to get a solid film about the war in the Middle East out there, but more and more are being made, and this is certainly one of the more successful ones. Stemming from an assignment for Vanity Fair, journalist and photographers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's spent a year dug in with the Second Platoon in one of Afghanistan's most strategically crucial valleys. The footage captured reveals great insight into the surreal combination of back breaking labor, deadly firefights, and camaraderie as the soldiers work to push back the Taliban and keep the locals at bay.


This film manages to combine both the tense atmosphere of warfare with the sometimes tedious nature of the situation. For all the firefights these boys go through, we also see them dealing with their down time and handling the locals in the area. It's an interesting mix, but never sets the film off balance, as I was constantly into seeing the proceedings of the platoons involved.

These men truly had it tough, as there are pretty much firefights every day, with attacks coming at different directions and always surprising. The opening sequence of this doc certainly puts you into the world these soldiers are a part of, with an attack literally springing on the men as they travel along in a vehicle. It's exciting stuff, as we see the men guide the camera men to safety, then view from his perspective as the soldiers try to figure out their situation.

You also have the scenes involving the soldiers dealing with the locals. Seeing the weekly meetings with the very old villagers, watching the platoon trying to help them understand what will be happening in the area, and listening to a specific instance where the soldiers must deal with the repercussions of putting a cow out of it's misery all function to once again provide us with perspective on the situation that the platoons are in here.

Kyle M. Steiner: It takes a lot out of you, once you see one of your boys get hurt.
The film really does become strong once it deals with the men who are wounded or killed in action, and seeing these soldiers deal with those crises. The title of the film, Restrepo, is actually the name of one of the soldier's who was killed in action during the filming of these events. Restrepo would then become the name of the operation post setup in the valley, which would make a difference in defending the area and pushing back the enemy.

All of this is made more powerful due to the way this documentary was assembled. Put together from a year's worth of footage, this feature runs for just over 90 minutes, but doesn't try to hash out a major narrative. It gives you enough of the year to send across an idea of what it was like for these men, but doesn't every take any sort of stance politically or otherwise. There is no narration, instead relying on debriefings from soldiers following their tour in Afghanistan. These debriefings are well handled, shot with the camera directly on them, having the men respond truthfully, which is very understated, therefore portraying a lot of real emotion as they gather their thoughts.

I found the portrayal of this particular platoon and the year they had to spend in a very deadly area to be quite fascinating. The fly-on-the-wall approach to the documentary filmmaking was effective. I appreciated the lack of any sort of politics being inserted into the feature. And hearing and seeing the soldiers reflect on the situation they found themselves in was handled very well. This was a very solid doc, that puts you right into fray and manages to inform and keep one interested.

Dan Kearney: You think, if they got our best guy, where does that leave me? What does that say about me?

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