So Tell Me About Restrepo: A Movieline FAQ
You're curious about Restrepo, the new documentary from Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington in which you the viewer are given unprecedented frontline access to the war in Afghanistan. It premiered at Sundance last night. Naturally, you have questions. We have answers. [Warning: Spoilers ensue.]
Does it live up to the buzz?
Yes. You may think you have seen war docs before, but you've never quite seen anything like this. This film should be required viewing for anyone with a personal stake in the war in Afghanistan, which is everyone. You will laugh, cry, and sweat bullets, in real time, alongside the young men of the Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
How graphic is the footage?
[SPOILERS] The platoon is deployed to Korengal Valley, called the most dangerous place on Earth by CNN, and you discover its steep and treacherous terrain as the soldiers do. The realization quickly creeps in that they are basically standing on the stage of a 360° natural Colosseum, where bullets can rain down at them from literally any direction. It's a death trap, and casualties happen. While you don't see anyone take a bullet, rocket or shrapnel directly, there is one sequence that I can only describe as one of the most devastating I have ever seen on film, in which a beloved Sergeant is ambushed, and a soldier breaks down upon discovering the body. You have to keep reminding yourself it's not real. Seriously -- it feels like a scripted movie, and it isn't, and it's kind of a serious mindfuck.
Wait a second -- they're getting ambushed by real Taliban soldiers, using real weapons? Isn't that kind of dangerous for the crew to be around?
So what the hell were they doing there?
I have no f'in clue. They were on assignment for Vanity Fair and ABC News, but this ain't Anderson Cooper in a camo-covered hard-hat shit. This is next-level access.
Why is it called Restrepo?
Restrepo is the name of the outpost they build defiantly at a geographic point of great vulnerability in the valley. It's named after the outsized, extremely positive soldier, medic and friend they lose early in battle. Throughout the film, the men exchange loving memories of PFC Juan Restrepo. They are really, really touching.
This sounds kind of horrible and depressing. Is it?
Look, it's not exactly cheery material, but there's more excitement than there is sadness, and there are several sequences which will make you laugh out loud. (An impromptu dance party to Samantha Fox is one of them. It's awesome.) The men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade are a charismatic and hilarious bunch, and their senses of humor are all they have to keep from going insane.
Movieline will have lots more questions for Junger and Hetherington when we inteview them later today. Stay tuned.