From May 2007 to July 2008, Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade was stationed in the remote Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan – considered one of the most dangerous postings of the war. The soldiers of Second Platoon built and manned a remote and strategic outpost that they named 'Restrepo,' in honour of their medic, PFC Juan Restrepo, who was killed in action. This is their story, in their words, of a group of men who came be considered the 'tip of the spear' for American efforts in that area.

War is hell doco incredibly effective.

In 2010, first-person battlefront footage should not achieve the visceral and emotional intensity of Restrepo. Many media scholars claim that the endless vision of horrible images from the world’s worst conflicts should have desensitised modern viewers to the horrors of war. Like the song says, 'There’s a horror movie, right there on my TV..."

Taking its name from the slain 20-year-old medic whose spirit and memory infuses the men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s Battle Company, Restrepo is certainly a film about the horrors of war. We are witness to the bloody death of young men, the collateral impact upon civilians in the line of fire and, via direct-to-camera accounts from the unit’s men, the manifestation of the mental scars that remain in the aftermath of frontline fighting.

Viewers may justifiably interpret any given moment of this film through any of these filters: Hulking assassins fuelled by an impenetrable, masculine belief in their sense of duty to their comrades-in-arms and their country; frontline diplomats trying to restore order to an abused, exploited region and its indigenous people; boys watching friends die and facing their own mortality on a daily basis.

All are present but none of these definitions (or any other judgemental response to the movie’s images and structure) stems from directorial intention; Restrepo refuses to editorialise. The documentary, shot over the unit’s 15-month deployment to Afghanistan's Korengal Valley – the US army’s furthest outpost into Taliban territory at the time of filming – just films men in a modern, dirty war.

There is ironic poignancy inherent in Restrepo’s experience of an American fighting unit involved in a directionless conflict that has lost the support of the people back home, but the nationality of the fighters becomes irrelevant. This is best summed-up in the words of a soldier in one of the film’s most low-key moments, as he rests, contemplating the stillness, after a brutally-effective offensive against the enemy: 'If we really fucked them over like [Command] said, they’re just chilling, recuperating... like we would do."

Restrepo captures the physical trauma and psychological torment that forms the essence of the 'War is Hell’ mantra, regardless of which flag you fight under.


1 hour 33 min
Wed, 02/16/2011 - 11