Posted by: greercn | October 20, 2010


War is hell. This fantastic documentary movie, about a year spent with U.S. infantrymen in Afghanistan’s Korangal valley, is more successful than most at reflecting the dreadful waiting, the high of action and the endless fear of being in the frontline of a real combat zone.

I write that as someone who was in the peace movement in my youth and had the most enormous fun, while others of my age were fighting, half the planet away. In the bliss of feeling I was on the right side at the right time, I never lost sight of the terrible memories survived by those who served America in Vietnam. The vets told me how they felt, often enough. I understood the class divide between us.

There can be no real understanding of the forces that made people go to war – then as now if you haven’t been there – but I listened and  understood that war is all about class. Most men who enlist or are drafted don’t have a choice to go to Harvard Business School and become masters of the universe. It’s a desperate option for desperate people in desperate times.

Few are better equipped than Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington to understand the reality of daily life during wartime. “Restrepo” is a remote outpost named for a dead medic comrade who is remembered throughout the movie.

This excellent film brings the two directors’ experience of war to each scene. There is rich comedy here, in the thoughts of each soldier. They are allowed to speak for themselves.

There is a languor in the middle which appears to reflect the reality of war. I nearly nodded off, but stayed awake. It’s not a long film, but it does treasure the lingering shot and that doesn’t always work.

Two moments will stay with me. One is about a young man talking about how his mother was a hippie and didn’t let him have toy guns. The other is the guys talking about their wives and girlfriends back home.

Doc Restrepo himself is hard to separate from the early scenes of loads of guys with great bodies and perfect teeth. But a touching moment late on distinguishes him from the others and has real soul.

There are some glorious scenes in which our boys try to impress upon local village elders the importance of making money and the American Way of doing things. Looking puzzled is an insufficient description for the fierce cynicism offered by the locals, who sigh with their whole bodies.

This is one in the Stratford Picture House series of documentaries. The management is to be applauded for showing this interesting and brave film. “Restrepo” has the whiff of Oscar about it. See it and you will be moved and will learn. The audience was appreciative, laughed and caught their breath in equal measures. How many documentaries get that response?


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