Fictional war films have a different kind of impact than that imparted by Restrepo, an intimate documentary that follows the skirmishes of Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade in the notorious Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Rarely have we seen such a raw portrait of the soldiers’ experience, from the rawness of combat to the scattered moments of boredom and quiet reflection.
Journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington made ten trips to the valley beginning in 2007, and named their film after the platoon’s first casualty, ‘Doc’ Restrepo, also the name of the critical hill-top outpost named in his honour. It’s from that 14-man stronghold that we see the guerrilla conflict with the Taliban.
The two sides often would exchange fire four or five times a day to seemingly no consequence. Now and again, A-10 Thunderbolts and attack helicopters whirl in to reign fire down on suspected strongholds, but the overwhelming feeling is one of pointlessness – the remarkably candid American soldiers not focussed on any kind of objective but simply trying to reach the end of their 15-month rotation so they and their friends can go home.
It’s clear from this well-produced portrait – which also concentrates on the failed ‘Rock Avalanche’ expedition in which the platoon is ambushed by the enemy – why the conflict has lasted so long. But Restrepo sidesteps these ideological issues entirely, instead focussing on rarely seen moments of mid-combat grief and the troubled eyes of the interviewed soldiers on their return home, which speak volumes. [JB]