Now Showing at: Esquire Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
As well crafted and gripping as it was, the big Oscar winner this year, The Hurt Locker, was a fictional film with actors, a script, and a director. For a real look at the horrors of the current war, Restrepo is the flip side of The Hurt Locker. It’s a documentary, with real soldiers who spend fifteen months with filmmakers intent on telling the story of the average soldier. Tim Hetherington, a cinematographer with two films to his credit, and Sebastian Junger, author of the novel “The Perfect Storm,” are first-time directors with a vision, which won them the Grand Jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
They are embedded with a platoon in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, a center of such ferocious fighting that CNN dubbed it “the most dangerous place on earth.” The main outpost, know as KOP, or Korengal Outpost, is constantly under attack, and can make no headway due to the treacherous terrain and concentration of the enemy. A splinter group from the platoon is assigned to forge ahead to higher ground and dig out a new outpost that has the potential to inflict damage on the Taliban. The soldiers must engage in firefights by day, and dig out and construct this new facility by night. The result is Outpost Restrepo, named after a fallen comrade.
These guys are your average soldiers, coming from all walks of life, and for the most part, very young. One of them appears to be maybe sixteen years old, but his baby face belies what memories and experiences are in his past. The filmmakers came back with over one hundred fifty hours of video from their stay in Afghanistan. This is augmented by interviews with many of the soldiers as they are in Rome on their way home at the end of their tour.
There is no narrative structure and no political statement in Restrepo. We are witness to the fear, exhilaration, tension, camaraderie, and boredom that besets them in the course of their daily duties, primary of which is survival. They do what’s required of them, grab moments of fun and relaxation as conditions permit, talk about home and family, and worry about each other when in the field.
Among the tasks assigned to these soldiers is to interact with the local residents as much as possible in an attempt to win their hearts and minds. We can tell from their discussions with the Afghanis that their presence is unwelcome.
Many watching Restrepo may think, “Why am I watching this?” yet in the next instant be hit by how horrible it must be to have to actually live this. This is not your standard Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris war movie. There are no heroics. Only heroes.
It honestly captures the subjects and gives us a small taste of the emotions that beset them. The film is emotional and thought provoking, and should be the source of many discussions afterward. Chances are good that come Oscar time in February, Restrepo will be among the five nominees for Best Documentary.
The unrated Restrepo is currently showing at the Esquire Theatre.