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Laramie Movie Scope: Restrepo

Life in the valley of death

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 19, 2010 -- With daredevil camera work and a real empathy for soldiers, this documentary film makes you feel like you are inside a G.I.'s uniform in Afghanistan's Korangal Valley. Unlike most war films, you can feel the fear, the anguish, the loss, the boredom and the hard, thankless work of being a soldier in one of the most hostile places in the world. There are no talking heads, no boring statistics, no grand overviews of policy, just a vivid depiction of the everyday lives, and deaths, of soldiers in war.

Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, who also did most of the camera work for this film, along with Jake Clennell and Derek Wiesehahn. These filmmakers were embedded with the Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in the Korangal Valley, dubbed “The Valley of Death.” The footage of fire fights at remote outposts and dangerous patrols include some of the most daring documentary combat footage since World War II. These camaramen were definitely in harm's way. The more powerful scenes in film are not so much about action, however, as raw emotions. Soldiers mourn their dead comrades and try to come to terms with what they have witnessed. One emotional scene during combat is heartbreaking as a soldier learns of the death of a respected friend. Other scenes show soldiers horsing around, wrestling, dancing, playing a guitar, listening to music and playing video games.

The film also shows soldiers trying to deal with local tribal leaders about various grievances, ranging from civilians killed by mistake, to a cow killed after it becomes entangled in wire around the outpost. The owner of the cow tries to get a lot of cash for his cow, but has to settle for food when the army brass refuse his demand. The film also shows the hard labor involved, under fire at times, as the soldiers pick and shovel, filling large barriers with rocks to protect them from murderous fire from the mountains above. The soldiers are building a forward outpost dubbed Restrepo, after PFC Juan S. Restrepo, a platoon medic killed early on in the campaign for Korangal Valley.

The mission for the soldiers is to provide security for a road construction detail. The idea is to build a road to connect the isolated valley with the rest of Afghanistan. This should improve the local economy. The area is a stronghold for the Taliban, who pay the locals to fire on the Americans. The difficulty of dealing with the locals is highlighted in the film. Old grudges seem to be the main topic of every conference with the village leaders, who all seem to be using the same shade of red dye on their long beards.

This film doesn't take a political position on the war, but it does note U.S. forces started pulling out of the Korangal Valley in 2009, about two years after initial filming. Reportedly the Korangal Outpost was abandoned by the army in April, 2010. This film makes a good companion piece to a recent NBC investigation into the deaths of nine soldiers of Chosen Company's Second Platoon in the Battle of Wanat on July 18, 2008. The NBC piece about the investigation into strategy and support shortcomings which lead to deaths and injuries at Wanat was aired on the news magazine show Dateline on June 27, 2010. The platoon at Restrepo heard the news of the battle of Wanat, which is discussed at a briefing in the film.

“Restrepo” is a rare piece of filmmaking, demonstrating both great courage under fire and empathy for its subjects. It is also expertly edited by Michael Levine. Long after this war has faded from memory, this film will live on as a fine example of how to document the lives of everyday soldiers in war. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2010 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)