Restrepo allows the viewers to paint their own conclusions onto its canvas. Restropo was made by two filmmakers who embedded themselves with an American platoon stationed in the most war torn area of Afghanistan. Over the period of 15 months Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger hung tight with troops who take fire every day of their occupation.
The Korengal Valley sits along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We slept along side, we went on patrols, we ate the same food as the soldiers,” says Hetherington in a phone interview with Free Press Houston. Hetherington and Junger were living with troops in the 173rd Airborn Brigade. Hetherington, a UK naïve, lives in New York City and pays taxes. “I don’t have the right to vote,” he reminds. Viewers familiar with best selling authors will recognize Junger’s name as the author of A Perfect Storm. You have to give these guys credit; they’re making a documentary in the middle of death and destruction. Most documentaries fall by the wayside, some get theatrical distribution and if a doc makes over $10-million it’s not only a benchmark, it’s like the film’s performing in Avatar style. Not only is Resprepo a war doc but also its good karma dictates that it gets released the week (or week after) the biggest corporate news story revolves around the change of command of the American military in Afghanistan. Hetherington notes that “I never carried a weapon, just a camera.” The troops would try to get him to pull guard duty but he simply reminded them that he was only there to document the moment.
Let me state right out that I think that the experience of watching Restropo only confirmed my belief that the war in Afghanistan is a joke and the resultant deaths are in vain. However the person next to me could be easily swayed that the effort merits attention. In fact the conflict only grows to this day. Hetherington makes the point that the American forces only subsist because they tell the locals that they will be here to protect them against the Taliban. We see one local laughing at the commander in charge. For him the Taliban is like Jesse James or Robin Hood. If America pulls out next year these innocent villagers will be killed by the powers that be for collaborating with the powers that were.
“Restrepo is a metaphor for the loss of innocence of every soldier,” remarks Hetherington. The title Restrepo comes from the last name of a medic troop who was killed early on his tour of duty. The main base in Korengal sits on the floor of the valley while out post Restrepo was a high point on a hill that gives the occupier an advantage. Every time Hetherington and Junger went from the main post to Restrepo it involved a couple-of-hours trek through enemy territory, It’s not surprise that at one point in the film we’re confronted by extremely heavy gun fire followed by a near breakdown from a troop who’s seen his brother troop get wasted.
“Opinions can get in the way of facts” Hetherington reminds. For the scene where we see the aftermath of a casualty Hetherington notes that he and Junger went to the deceased parents to explain their motive before they allowed it in the film. “There are 15,000 troops in the Korengal, but I live in New York City and there are 40,000 cops,” Hetherington says. Regardless of your political orientation you owe it to yourself to see Restrepo and then form your own thoughts. Restrepo opens exclusively this weekend at the Angelika.
— Michael Bergeron