Saturday, May 14, 2011

Movie Review: Restrepo

By Reginald Kaigler (DEMCAD)

"Restrepo" centers on the Men of Battle Company 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team who are waging war in Eastern Afghanistan. One of the film's directors, War journalist Sebastian Junger, spent one year embedded with U.S. forces in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. Along with the late photographer Tim Hetherington, Junger captures one of the most intense portraits of war I've ever seen. The film isn't propaganda. It isn't meant to be pro-war or anti-war. It simply allows us to view these young men live and fight in one of the most difficult terrains in the world. Politics takes a back seat to survival.

Junger and Hetherington show the extreme constrast in the two missions that Washington has assigned the soldiers. We watch a U.S. commander is leading an outreach meeting with local tribe leaders. One villager mentions the deaths of civilians. The frustrated American tries to focus the discussion on the future. The American forces attempt to win "hearts and minds" while battling over positions on hills and dropping bombs on houses that kill children. The American soldiers don't want to kill children, but when the enemy is hiding among children, there's no avoiding civilian causalities.

The death of Americans also defines the film. The unit named a newly built outpost after a lost friend, "Doc" Restrepo."

What amazed me the most about the documentary is the soldiers' honesty and willingness to be themselves. The scene where one soldier stares down at his fallen friend is devastating. The comedy of three soldiers dancing to trashy Euro pop is over-the-top funny. This film manages to capture the journey without beating us over the head with a blunt message, it presents the reality and lets the audience draw from it. After almost 50 U.S. soldiers lost their lives fighting in the valley, the U.S. decided to pull out of the region in 2010. This film is available on Netflix Instant and I highly recommend it.

Note: Photographer Tim Hetherington was recently killed while covering the war in Libya.

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