As a young American male, war documentaries always make me feel guilty. I watch other men my age experiencing something so immense in scope, horrific, so life altering. And I do it from the comfort of a movie theater, get in my car, drive home, and watch a few episodes of True Blood on DVR. The whole thing makes me feel some how inadequate, and embarassed I’m not offering my country more. Because of these reasons, I have a hard time getting excited about these types of films. At the same time, however, I feel it’s my responsibility as world citizen to have an idea of what’s happening in war zones. I couldn’t have picked a better film than Restrepo to catch an authentic glimpse into what the troops in Afghanistan are experiencing.
Restrepo is a remarkable piece of journalism, helmed be Tim Hetherton (a photographer), and Sebastian Junger (journalist and author). They follow a company of American soldiers stationed in a particularly dangerous and vicious area in Afghanistan, called Korangal Valley, over fourteen months. The company is charged with pushing back the enemy and creating an outpost named O. P. Restrepo, named after one of their slain brethren.
Hetherton and Junger use a variety of camera ranging from rudimentary, to HD to document some genuinely terrifying and moving moments that include the death of a company member. This scene is so simple in its story telling. But heartbreaking as the cameras witness the candid reactions as the soldiers first here of their colleague’s death. To witness this on screen and to not be profoundly moved is nearly impossible and is only possible among the most detached and uncaring.
The scenes at and around O.P. Restrepo are framed within the film by interviews with these soldiers in Italy, after the end of their deployment. These men are clearly scarred. And as they recount the events, and emotions they experienced in Korangal, you will realize that this film is indeed something extremely special. This is something that headlines on CNN, or updates on NPR can’t portray. Hetherton and Junger have given the civilians an rare and honest glimpse into this war.
As Kathryn Bigelow managed to do so seemlessly with The Hurt Locker, the filmmakers managed to keep any anti, or pro-war opinions out of the film. And rightly so. Any sort of preaching would have been vastly inappropriate. Neither the cause, nor the result of the war is examined or discussed. The only subjects that matter here, are the soldiers.
It may be too early to use superlatives, but this will almost certainly turn out to be one of the year’s greatest films. If you are to see one documentary this year, please let it be Restrepo.