Tuesday, 19 October 2010

REVIEW: Restrepo

Depending on your world-view, there's two ways to approach a documentary like Restrepo, a Sundance Festival Grand Jury Prize winner this year. Either there is something heroic about the camaraderie of a company of American soldiers stuck for a year in Korangal Valley in Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous deployments in the US Army, or it's a damning indictment of just how pointless the war really now is after nine years.

The film captures a series of moments involving a bunch of young, gung-ho and fairly unsympathetic men with no clue what they are stepping into, who are completely cut off not only from the outside world but from the Afghans villagers they are surrounded by and who rarely even see the people who are shooting at them. They take casualties, friends are killed, their outpost is named after one of their dead compatriots, PFC Juan Restrepo, and many end up suffering nightmares they can hardly describe. Their utterly moronic Captain Kearney has no clue why the actions of his men are deeply resented and seems to believe that the construction of Outpost Restrepo was some kind of major achievement of their tour, although their mission to improve security along a road through the valley has clearly failed. Then in April 2010 the Americans pull out of Korangal, having lost 50 men in total. There's not much that seems heroic about any of that.

Restrepo has been compared to The Hurt Locker with its suggestion that war can become a drug, but its a very different film, far more depressing and and far less contrived. I can also see why the Sundance jury praised it and there's no doubting the courage of the two filmmakers who shared the terrifying experiences of the men they lived with. And yet...

I still didn't really enjoy it. It was just too impersonal to enjoy.

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