Restrepo is the name of an outpost in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. It’s also the name of a comrade lost in battle by the Second Platoon Battle Company. This documentary (directed by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington) shows the platoon at work and at play in camp Restrepo, an area built deeper into enemy territory than any other site in the Korengal Valley and one that stood as quite an achievement for the men there, a middle finger to those trying to be rid of them.
Full of memorable characters (like the lad who didn’t have a toy gun when he was a kid because of his “hippy” parents), this documentary plays out just like any other entry in the top tier. You start off not really knowing who is who and, by the end of things, come to know the names and faces and enjoy the time you’ve been spending with these people.
I can’t remember the last time I was ever so tense or quite so deeply amidst the action and turmoil, Restrepo takes you and places you right beside these guys as they deal with mines, bullets and danger from all around them. It’s a genuinely tense experience at times, although it’s nothing compared to what the boys themselves went through, and takes you closer to the reality of the situation than any other footage I have seen.
There may not be many changes to the characters involved (by the time the “talking head” footage is shown these boys have been through the most life-changing thing they ever want to go through, I think) and not everyone will have your sympathy but that’s not the point.
This is about being right there, through the strangeness of the self-made highs and the perils of the all-too-lethal lows. It’s about trying to get through Operation Rock Avalanche one moment (a manoeuvre that none of those involved will forget) and then grabbing comrades to dance along to some amusingly irritating dance tune the next. Some people say that you never appreciate your life more than when you’ve been close to death and Restrepo reinforces that feeling. It’s an astounding piece of work.
DIRECTOR: SEBASTIAN JUNGER/TIM HETHERINGTON
STARS: SECOND PLATOON BATTLE COMPANY
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX