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Review: Restrepo (2010)

Restrepo (2010)

Directed by: Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

Premise: A documentary about a platoon of American soldiers stationed in the Kornangol Valley in Afghanistan.

What Works: Restrepo is one of the most interesting war documentaries ever made. Co-directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger spend the film’s running time embedded with the soldiers at one of the most dangerous posts in Afghanistan and capture a year of gridlock, advances, and setbacks. Restrepo characterizes the soldiers in the field during their day-to-day tasks, their interactions with the Afghan population, as well as fire fights and other operations. Using no narration and presenting no agenda other than to assemble a portrayal of reality, Restrepo is a refreshingly honest portrayal of the war. While not an endorsement of the United States’ military activities it also is not a partisan or polemical piece. There is nothing wrong with subjective and activist pieces, but Restrepo bucks the trend in recent documentary filmmaking and in that this film achieves something unique in the genre in the past decade. The film does not fetishize soldiers the way a lot of rightwing media do nor does it recoil or condescend in the way some leftwing media have a habit of doing. This documentary captures the banality and fear of warfare and it presents the soldiers of Restrepo as human beings, flawed but doing their best and acting professionally in a difficult situation. When they achieve success the film reveals the rewards of their efforts but when their comrades are killed the film does not cut away from the soldiers’ grief. These kinds of scenes make Restrepo an important film not just in the current political and historical context but an important footnote for war reporting a whole. 

What Doesn’t: The film does not account much for time. It is a small flaw, but the film does not convey the sense that an entire year has passed from the beginning of the film to the end. 

Bottom Line: As a piece of truly journalistic documentary filmmaking, Restrepo does not do the audience’s thinking for them and demands that viewers think about its content. And in doing so, the filmmakers behind Restrepo have created a cinematic document about contemporary warfare and those who fight it that will stand as a landmark of this time period in the same way that Hearts and Minds captured the Vietnam era.

Episode: #322 (January 16, 2011)