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Searing 'Restrepo' documentary depicts war at its rawest

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2010

Losing a buddy on a battlefield is a universal theme in Hollywood war films, and yet when it happens in the Afghan war documentary "Restrepo," there's no foreshadowing, no soaring soundtrack, no mood lighting.

It just happens. Just like in real battles.

And the sense of loss, heartbreak and tragedy is difficult to watch as the horrible news moves quickly through a platoon of tough soldiers, who react in varying stages of grief - shock, disbelief, quiet reflection, anger and tears. Then they carry their wounded and fallen comrades to a helicopter and get on with the fighting.

"Restrepo" is a searing, intense look at the war in Afghanistan through the bloodshot eyes of one Army company stationed in the dangerous Korengal Valley in 2007 and '08. Journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington made a total of 10 trips between them to embed with the unit while on assignment for Vanity Fair magazine and ABC News. Junger, known for the best-seller "The Perfect Storm," recently published the book "War" about the soldiers.

"Restrepo" is culled from 150 hours of video shot by Junger and Hetherington while they lived with the soldiers at a firebase named after the unit's medic, Pfc. Juan Restrepo, who was killed shortly after the unit was deployed to eastern Afghanistan. While most of the film is footage shot at a small outpost in the middle of the valley, the filmmakers interviewed the soldiers three months after they left, and their recollections are interspersed with scenes of boredom, frustration, the exhilaration of a firefight and poignant settings that illustrate the closeness of men who must depend on each other to survive.

After watching the sweat, blood and effort expended by the soldiers in "Restrepo," we learn that a year after the unit went home and was replaced by another Army company, the U.S. military decided to pull out of the Korengal Valley.

This isn't the History Channel's version of the war in Afghanistan, and filmgoers who like their stories neatly wrapped up might think "Restrepo" is disjointed. But wars don't come in neat packages, and "Restrepo" - with its "F-bombs," real bombs and bloodshed - is an unvarnished and unwavering look at 21st-century combat.



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