The Review: We live in an age when rolling news channels give us constant, and sometimes live, feeds of footage from the front lines of conflict across the world, and where it’s possible for movies to have made their way into cinemas while those conflicts are still taking place. We can be lulled into believing that we truly understand what it must be like to be on those front lines, but of course what we get are the heavily edited highlights. Restrepo follows the members of a platoon as they embark on a fifteen month deployment in Afghanistan’s Korengal valley.
It’s also easy to imagine how this is going to play out. We start with talking heads from the platoon members reflecting on their thoughts before they head out, but it’s clear that there’s a dose of reality already permeating among the members of the platoon. Directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington keep close to the platoon at all times, and an attack on the convoy early on immediately sets the stakes for both them and the platoon they’re following. The fact that the name of the outpost they establish, Outpost Restrepo, is named for a fallen colleague also serves to underline the immediacy of the threat facing them.
What follows has a slightly conventional feel to it at times, with footage of the talking heads of the platoon, mostly taken after the fact, interspersed with the footage of them building and then defending their outpost, attempting to manage the locals and out on patrol. There are also occasions when the members of Second Platoon come over as slightly sterotypical, no doubt thanks to the heavy diet of war films that both they and we have consumed over the years, but that also serves to help familiarise and humanise them, and their plight becomes that much more immediate.
Restrepo is not an attempt to judge the rights or wrongs of the Afghan conflict, more to understand what compels men to fight for their country and to put themselves in a situation like this for fifteen months. Although there’s no real sense of innovation in the presentation, the quality of the material speaks for itself, and both the frustrations and the terror are writ large across the screen. In particular, the last third of the movie sees the platoon deep in the action and the reality of their situation hits home hard. An undeniably moving and deliberately unglamorous documentary that captures both the best and worst of army life in Afghanistan.
Why see it at the cinema: Allowing yourself to be immersed in the footage helps to understand quite what these soldiers have gone through, and hopefully to make you more than a little relieved that you don’t actually have to go through it.
The Score: 8/10