Last night National Geographic Channel was kind enough to air the critically acclaimed documentary Restrepo. Even more generous was the fact that it appeared to air unedited (judging by the amount of f-bombs that were contained in the television version). The documentary won its category’s award at the Sundance Film Festival and it definitely deserved it. Restrepo is a masterful and insightful piece of moviemaking about the lives of our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.
The documentary follows a platoon of American soldiers in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. The valley is one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan for American soldiers who have dubbed it “The Valley of Death”. As the film says, over forty American soldiers have died there while fighting the Taliban. The film centers mostly on life in the Restepo Outpost which was named after one of the first soldiers in the platoon to die. The film takes place over the course of one year.
It is amazing, to say the least, what Sebastian Junger (an American journalist) and Tim Hetherington (a British photogropher) accomplish with this film. They really went to the fires of hell to make this film as they were there with the soldiers in probably one of the most dangerous places in the world. Some of the sequences they are able to catch are breathtaking (such as soldiers reacting to news of comrades dying, the gorgeous scenery surrounding the outpost and numerous firefights). However, the most jaw-dropping sequence they come up with is the ambush scene in the opening. It really provides a phenomenal hook that keeps you gripped to the screen.
Another interesting thing this documentary showcases is the terrain of Afghanistan. Many people (including myself) think of Afghanistan as a barren (yet mountainous) area that is almost desert like. However, while watching this film the almost completely green valley catches you by surprise. As the film continues sequences are shot with soldiers trekking through thick forests and even shoveling through dense snow.
Restrepo is an excellent documentary and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this film is to Afghanistan what The Hurt Locker was to Iraq. Not only are they the defining films (so far) of each war but they also showcase the soldiers instead of delving into any of the politics of war. Each soldier is shown to have a different personality (some are fascinated by the ability to go out and fight while others are completely rattled by the experiences that occur to them) and this might be the film’s greatest strength. These are real people fighting this war.