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Restrepo (2010)

December 14, 2010

9/10 Bands of Brothers

The most honest and unflinching look into the life of a soldier that you’ll find.

Restrepo is a documentary that follows a platoon of US soldiers as they occupy and defend a makeshift site named after their dead friend located in the heart of the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. Over the course of an entire year, the men struggle to establish relations with the natives of the area and push back opposing forces while taking enemy fire on a daily basis and suffering casualties in an area known better as “The Valley of Death”.

Ever since The Hurt Locker came out last year and all the heat/acclaim that followed suit, it only seemed like a matter of time before something like this came along. Not to say that The Hurt Locker‘s a bad movie, but my thoughts on it have changed a lot since I first reviewed it and the reason it works is because most of us who sat in a theater and watched it don’t know jack shit about what it’s like to go to war. We know Saving Private Ryan, we know how to pull off a kill streak in Call of Duty, but when it comes to being in the thick of things, we’ll typically buy it as long as it’s entertaining.

And that’s why Restrepo matters. This isn’t Hollywood, this is Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington practicing embedded journalism at its finest where lives in front of and behind the camera are being put on the line 24/7. You can write an Oscar-winning script about war, you can win an Oscar for the way you filmed it, but as good as your final product is, the truth is that fiction doesn’t hold a candle to fact when it comes to this kind of subject matter. Everywhere the soldiers go, everything the soldiers say, every emotion the soldiers succumb to, the cameras are right there to capture it. I’m sure a whole lot of people are in the same boat as me on this one, but it’s the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing life on the front lines, and after seeing what these guys go through, stuff that couldn’t be any further from what I got out of Jarhead, I aim to keep it that way.

It’s just harrowing to a degree that I can’t even fathom and it boggles the mind how these soldiers got through an entire effing year of making it their lives. One second we’re watching them in an interview booth at the close of their tour, next thing you know we’re watching these professional tough guys break down in tears when one of their own bleeds out on the ground in front of them, and then it cuts to them eating dinner in the barracks, trading insults about each other’s moms. It’s gritty and it’s all over the place, it’s affecting in a way you can’t stage, and it’s exactly the kind of realism that’s been desperately missing from the Three-Act Wars we’ve gotten used to getting out of movies.

Because, let’s face it, the most worthwhile thing that The Hurt Locker had to say about war didn’t involve him defusing bombs or going on solo night raids without a helmet in the slums of Afghanistan (which never fucking happens), it was when Jeremy Renner found himself lost in a supermarket, dumbfounded by a life that’s become alien to him. And the same thing is true here. You watch these guys getting endlessly blindsided day and night from enemy fire and you wonder how they manage to sleep for even a minute let alone go back to a life in the suburbs when everything’s said and done.

But it’s not about politics, this is solely about the soldiers, who they are, what they go through, and why they deserve to be supported. We get to know these guys, we see the camaraderie amongst them that’s been forged out of surviving in the face of death, and when they talk about the lengths of what they experienced, the sympathy will flood. They’re very likable, very genuine and they don’t feel superhuman, they feel like us. And that’s what’s so damn scary about the whole thing. I mean, honestly, how the fuck do you go back to a 9 to 5 gig after something like this? No way in hell can anyone other than a vet relate to what they’ve been through and you can tell from the numbed looks on their faces or when they talk about watching someone die with a smile on their face like they never quite learned what that expression was meant to convey, you get the impression that they don’t quite know how the hell they’re gonna pull it off either. They’re barely pulling it off as is.

It’s gut-wrenching and devastating to watch, and as often as you’ll laugh and smile with this crew, the emotional punch will leave you stunned.

The only thing that even borders on politics is the revelation that after the platoon finished their tour of duty, the US military ultimately pulled all their troops out of the Korangal Valley. It’s not to say that their efforts and sacrifices were in vain, but considering the circumstances and what these guys fought to accomplish, it’s somewhat hard to swallow.

So if it’s entertainment that you’re looking for, you’re probably better off with Green Zone or The Kingdom, but if you want the ugly truth that isn’t glamorized with A-list actors and high-octane action scenes, Restrepo deserves your attention. Man, this thing has set a new bar for documentaries and considering the trigger-happy generation we live in where the idea of war from a bystander’s perspective has changed from one of horror to highest score, it deserves everyone’s attention. It is no joke whatsoever, it’s a breath of fresh air that will hopefully shift a distanced, unrealistic view of war towards the frighteningly real, and, if anything, it will undoubtedly give you a new respect for a way of life that requires more out of a person than anyone should ever be asked of.

If you’re interested in learning more about Restrepo, Junger and the movie as a whole, do yourself a favor and check out IAVA’s website to get the full scoop.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2010 11:00 am

    Happy you liked this Aiden. I went to see this at the local indie theater and was blown away. Easily one of my top 3 movie of the year! I believe they are going to show it on The National Geographic channel again very soon so definitely check out your listing if you are interested in seeing it folks.

    • December 14, 2010 12:34 pm

      If I had Nat Geo, I probably would. At least its on Netflix Instant already. 2010’s been a great year for docs, huh? This was easily one of the best. Still need to see Inside Job though.

  2. Moose permalink
    December 14, 2010 12:14 pm

    My dad watched this on Nat Geo and he said it was incredible. Glad you reviewed it, and I can’t wait to see it. Got it saved on my DVR, I just need to get in the right mood for it.

    • December 14, 2010 12:35 pm

      Hop to it, man. You’ll be glad you did. Along with introducing me to Harpoon IPA, your dad is quickly turning into my hero.


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