Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Restrepo (2010)


They say the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, so is the path to war, and nobody knows that better than the soldiers who fight them. Being a soldier is an arduous task. Day in and day out they must deal with ominous surroundings - the ever prevalent possibility of a life altering injury or worse, death. They're asked to be on guard twenty-four hours a day, even amidst elongated lull periods. Such is the tale of Second Platoon, sent into Korangal Valley, Afghanistan - nicknamed "The Valley of Death."

As documentaries go, Restrepo is a far cry from many of our modern endeavors. It carries with it no agenda. There lay no hidden message beneath the scenes to grasp at the viewer’s inner being. In essence it is the truest form of documentary – a film that solely documents the events as they happened. Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger expertly capture the journey of Second Platoon’s fourteen month long campaign. Through respite, politics, and bloodshed, Hetherington and Junger put the audience right there in the middle of the action.

Putting the viewer right into the middle definitely has its advantages. First and foremost, you, the viewer, are not distanced from the events at hand. You become the camera’s perspective. When gunfights break out you’re moving along with the soldiers for cover. You’re looking out for enemies. During the quiet times you sit there chatting with your comrades, enjoying music and dance, manning a machine gun, or perhaps take part in the occasional exercise in male testosterone. When it’s time to speak to the locals you work with the commanders to translate, and deal with the clash of cultures. Putting you there makes you feel for the soldiers, it makes you understand them on some minute level. It embeds onto you an unforgettable experience.

Throughout the film, Hetherington and Junger maneuver through a series of events they want to spotlight. Approaching each in order allows Restrepo to carry the passage of time without constantly needing to remind you of the date. It also helps in creating a sense of progression, even in a stalled environment. Restrepo is not a traditional journey film. It concentrates on one general area, OP Restrepo (named after a fallen member of Second Platoon early on in the campaign), and occasionally reaches out to Second Platoon’s captain to supply the political backbone of the situation.

Due to this, Restrepo can at times feel jerky and underdeveloped. There’s so much going on that needs to be shown for the audience to get the full picture that it can’t all be crammed into the ninety minute runtime. Therefore Restrepo turns into a highlight package. Each moment is given its due time, but there are no fluid transitions between them. The only transitions exist in the soldiers at the heart of the film. Their constant presence, and development, becomes the glue that keeps the film and the viewer connected. Lucky for our directors, those soldiers are super glue.

By the time Restrepo reaches its finale there is little else to be said. So many different aspects of war have been examined and discussed, you would be hard pressed to find more to talk about. Restrepo does not leave you wanting; it leaves you knowing that what you’ve just seen is real. That soldiers just like these are out there dealing with situations such as the ones you witnessed every day. It is the chronicle of soldiers. Not just those in front of the camera, but all soldiers. For that alone it is a wonder to behold.

Film Credits -
Directed By: Tim Hetherington & Sebastian Junger 

4 better thoughts:

John Gilpatrick said...

I just watched this last night. I agree that it was marvelously unbiased--almost simplistic--in its purpose. The problem I had related to the character Restrepo. He was obviously an important part of all of these soldiers' lives, yet I didn't think the film showed us why. Still, it was very enlightening.

Aiden R. said...

"Restrepo does not leave you wanting; it leaves you knowing that what you’ve just seen is real." Great review, man. This was an 8 for me for a good while there, but that scene where the soldier starts bawling during Rock Avalanche left me stunned. Required viewing, man.

Castor said...

Great movie indeed and glad you appreciate how good it is. I'm glad that they didn't try too hard to fit a narrative arc to the documentary. All you need to understand these men is to be there with them through the camera lens of the filmmakers. Definitely a great year for documentaries.

Univarn said...

@John I think a lot of that comes from the fact that they pieced together the story they were going to tell afterward. Also, Restrepo didn't become a central figure until his death early on and the naming of OP Restrepo after him. There's no way they could have known that early on while filming. However, they could have done a few more interviews for background and emotional support.

@Aiden: That was a good scene, and I loved the way they played it with the interviews leading in. How the soldier really tried to play down his crying - made for a perfect juxtaposition.

@Castor I'd agree, it's the first time in a long time I've felt a bit bad for having not seen as many documentaries as I ought too.

Related Posts with Thumbnails