There have been some truly great war movies made through the years. Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, Jarhead, The Hurt Locker – you can open up a book on the genre and stop on pretty much any page and you’re bound to find a standout title. The same can be said about television shows, with Band of Brothers and Generation Kill immediately springing to mind. But despite the success of all these, many of them continue to face criticism from certain audiences because they do not accurately portray what life is really like on the front line. If this is truly the case, then Restrepo breaks the mold.
Restrepo is a 2010 American documentary about the Afghanistan War and is directed by Sebastian Junger, a journalist well known for his writing about the grim realities of war. Alongside British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, the two men spent a year in the notorious Korengal Valley, standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women of the Second Platoon, Battle Company.
Almost immediately we are faced with just how intense and terrifying genuine combat can be as a military hummer traveling along a narrow road is hit by an IED. The panicked and chaotic handheld camera footage hits home straight away as the squad is faced with only the first of many life or death situations. This is the reality of war. This is not a Hollywood movie.
Real footage of firefights, downtime, base building, and maintenance are interspersed with interviews with the soldiers who were there during the filming of the documentary. Watching these modern-day warriors who have experienced the toughest, most frightening situation a person can face struggle not to break down as they discuss losing close friends is hard to stomach at times. It is truly gut-wrenching. These are normal people that were put into impossible situations.
Both Junger and Hetherington should be commended for putting themselves in the position that they did. They risked their own lives to bring this incredible footage to the world and showing us the real bravery and sacrifices these soldiers make. The danger some journalists put themselves in to show the world what we ordinarily wouldn’t see hit home when Tim Hetherington was killed in Libya the following year while covering the civil war there.
This will not be an easy watch. This isn’t a comedy or an action movie in which you are pre-programmed in how to respond. But at the same time, just because this is a difficult subject matter doesn’t take anything away from how great a film it really is. This is the kind of documentary, nay film, that everyone should sit through at least once because you will never look at a returning soldier in the same way again.
[Guest review by Paul Mitchell]