‘Restrepo’ puts real face on Afghanistan War

"Restrepo" — Photo courtesy of Outpost Films
Restrepo follows a platoon in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan — Photo courtesy of Outpost Films

In some ways, Restrepo is the best horror movie of 2010. I don’t mean that there are zombies or vampires running around this exquisite documentary. By horror, I’m referring to the horrors of war, and they are brought to unwavering light in Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s chilling 93-minute film.

The tag line for Restrepo says it all: One Platoon, One Valley, One Year.

Following a platoon during its hellish deployment in the violent Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, Restrepo doesn’t mince words or present the lives of these men in a stylized, quick-edit fashion. The movie simply serves as a document — neither offering an opinion nor hitting the audience over the head with facts and dollar signs. In fact, there is not one political thread woven into the fabric of Restrepo. The filmmakers instead choose to focus on the everyday occurrences of these men.

And, of course, the everyday occurrences are not everyone’s idea of a typical day. The men deal with a faceless enemy that lives in the near distance. In fact, throughout the entire movie, the enemy is never seen, and that’s probably even scarier for these men.

The film receives its name from a fallen soldier in the platoon who we see through archival footage on a flight over to Afghanistan where he is joking with friends. His name was Juan Restrepo, and following his death, the men continued to find inspiration in his heroism. Thus, when the soldiers reach a pivotal stronghold in the middle of the Korengal Valley, they decide to name their new position Outpost Restrepo.

Several personalities shine in the film, but the lasting impression is one of confraternity among these men. In the middle of enemy territory, in an increasingly deadly military conflict, the reality of their circumstances seeps in. Perhaps, for 2011 audiences, the documentary is most distressing when the platoon’s leaders are trying to convince the Afghani elders to welcome their protection. The locals, who live in various stages of poverty, are scared of everyone walking through their neighborhoods and aren’t exactly opening up their arms.

Restrepo reminds us not why we go to war (or why we don’t), but what happens when we do.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Restrepo

  • 2010

  • Directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

  • Running time: 93 minutes

  • Rated R for language throughout including some descriptions of violence

  • Rating: ★★★★

Revised

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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