Soldiers in Afghanistan protect an outpost deep in a Taliban-surrounded valley in the documentary "Restrepo." (National Geographic Entertainment)
A look at both the tragic folly of war and the camaraderie of men under pressure, the documentary "Restrepo" holds both hope and horror.
Writer Sebastian Junger and photographer/cinematographer Tim Hetherington work as co-directors on the film, which is an account of one U.S. platoon spending one year in the most dangerous valley in Afghanistan. The footage is raw and nerve-wracking; certainly as true an accounting of the tension of modern war as exists.
Soon after the soldiers land in the Korangal Valley, a boisterous medic named Juan Restrepo is killed. When the soldiers surge forward and build an outpost deep into the Taliban-surrounded valley, they name the thin refuge Restrepo in his honor.
From there the directors show the soldiers under fire, venturing out to meet the local (none-too-friendly) citizenry, and working hard to keep up spirits. Interviews with the surviving soldiers after they are home safe give context to the battlefield footage.
No narration is forced onto the film and none is needed. The desperation and terror and nervous laughter the soldiers endure day-to-day, and their recollections from safety, say it all.
The directors don't have to lay out any political agendas, either. The question of what is being accomplished at Restrepo looms over the entire film.
Men are risking, and losing, their lives to hold onto a hill in the middle of nowhere. And as they're doing so, there's no evidence that anything is being accomplished in terms of defeating the Taliban or building bonds with the valley's inhabitants.
"Restrepo" captures modern war in all its slow, brutal, futile meanness, leaving you wondering how any psyche could survive such wrenching psychic clamor. It's more than a movie; it's an alarm that should be heeded.