One Platoon, One Valley, One Year.
Since 2003 all forms of media have been deeply immersed in the Iraq War; from the front pages of every newspaper to television shows and films. Although the central characters of these shows are American soldiers they raise the geopolitical issues that surround the most controversial war of the decade. In terms of television, none more so than the HBO miniseries Generation Kill (2008) focussed on the experiences of a reporter who accompanied the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in Iraq.
The post 2003 period has seen an influx in war films; the most notable of which are Jarhead (2005) and The Hurt Locker (2008). Although both of these films follow male protagonists who are attempting to adjust to the effects of war, the recurring element of “why are we even at war anyway” rears its omnipresent head. These films don’t take a point of view they just sit in ‘no man’s land’ raising arguments for both. It is very rare that we see a film that focuses solely on the soldiers.
Budding film makers Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of The Perfect Storm (2000), and Tim Hetherington, have been reporting on conflict for ten years and are also contributors to Vanity Fair. The two decided to combine and create a feature length documentary Restrepo (2010) because they feel that…
“The war in Afghanistan has become highly politicized, but soldiers rarely take part in that discussion. Our intention was to capture the experience of combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of the soldiers themselves. Their lives were our lives: we did not sit down with their families, we did not interview Afghans, and we did not explore geopolitical debates. Soldiers are living and fighting and dying at remote outposts in Afghanistan in conditions that few Americans back home can imagine. Their experiences are important to understand, regardless of one’s political beliefs. Beliefs can be a way to avoid looking at reality. This is reality”.
Set in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, Restrepo follows the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers at a 15-man outpost situated there. Named “Restrepo” after a platoon medic who was killed in action it was considered one of the most dangerous military postings in the U.S. military. A film that is experimental with its approach covets a realist identity from its cinematography to narrative structure.
Shot mainly in close ups Restrepo creates a sense of intimacy with its characters; we experience everything they do, the serenity of the silence, the terrifying gunfights and the depressing loss of a friend. For the duration of the film we never leave the valley. The films creators set out with a goal “to make viewers feel as if they have just been though a 94-minute deployment” (Junger and Hetherington), sufficed to say that this goal was achieved.
The realism of cinematography is emphasised with the gunfire. Instead of the familiar non diegetic booming we’ve grown accustomed to from countless Hollywood productions the guns in Restrepo offer a painful cracking sound that resonate interminably inside the Korengal. This is where the problem may lie for a lot of viewers, who having become so accustomed to the Hollywood sound of violence that the real may sound fake and certainly, not as dramatic.
The film is frequently interjected with interviews from the soldiers after their return from the valley. The juxtaposition from the documentary style to the pieces to camera reflects the emotions that the soldiers face. Sticking to their proposed plan the film makers only interviewed the soldiers; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. We only hear the point of view from the soldiers.
A film that has adapted the traditional conventions of the war genre Restrepo is reality, it is also fantastic; 9/10.