Restrepo takes its name from a fallen soldier (who was killed in the Korengal Valley) and focuses on Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne) who were deployed to the notorious Korengal Valley in 2007 for a fifteen month tour. The men are not interested in or bothered by the reputation the valley has and have no idea what they are in for. The Korengal Valley was known as “the most deadliest place on earth” and within a few days of arriving the guys are made aware of this. America pulled out of the Korengal in 2010 with a casualty total of 50 men.
Being the fierce warriors that American soldiers are, the men were not concerned about getting killed or hurt, but were instantly met with intensive resistance resulting in deaths and wounding of soldiers, some of which are captured on film. The most intense parts of the film are not necessarily the combat scenes (which are very intense) but the interviews with the men. Accounts of “Rock Avalanche” were pretty awkward to watch. One soldier smiles nervously while being interviewed and you just feel so uncomfortable watching him keep it together while recalling a pretty horrible time. Rock Avalanche was a mission that dropped men on a hilltop (by a noisy-ass helicopter) and had them roaming around and vulnerable to near on face to face Taliban attacks. There’s some footage of this, it blacks out and when it comes back there’s been a casualty and you’re confronted with watching men cope all in very different ways. It doesn’t get more close-up and voyeruistic than this. You always hear how the biggest and toughest guy can break down in moments like these but seeing it is totally surreal.
A pretty intensive look at the conditions, action, consequences and day to day life of being in a war. We get to see men in the middle of combat, conduct weekly shuras (meetings with elders) and some pretty intense situations unfold. The timing of few recent war documentaries seems quite odd seeing as no one really has an interest in the war anymore, and most of the Iraq docos that exist are heavily critical of the war and of American soldiers. Restrepo simply tells of a platoon doing their job, what leanings you get from the film will vary with the viewer. I simply wanted to know more about the men and their stories.
As mentioned, there’s been a couple of war documentaries of late – Armadillo which focuses on a Danish outfit and HBO’s The Battle for Marjah. I’ve watched all three and there’s no doubt that Restrepo is the most memorable of them. What helps to set it apart is that there’s so many likable guys, the main being Misha Pemble-Belkin a soldier who was raised by a “fuckin’ hippy mother” and wasn’t even allowed to have a toy turtle squirt-gun as a child. He appears drunk at the start of the film in footage shot by Restrepo himself and drunkenly blurts out a line about saddling a miniature zebra. The camera whips around to Restrepo who states “Tune in next time, when we’re gonna still be lovin’ life and gettin’ ready to go to war”.
Highly recommended for those who like such material, I would also recommend the book War by Sebastian Junger who was embedded with this platoon – and also has a directing credit for the film. The men don’t come across as charismatic in the book compared to the film and ultimately to me this is what puts the film up above others of its kind. Compare the dudes in Armadillo to Restrepo and any stereotype about American soldiers being psychos goes straight out the window.
There’s a bunch of worthwhile special features including 44 minutes worth of deleted scenes, additional interviews and text updates on the soldiers. An excellent release.
- Deleted scenes
- Additional interviews
- Where are they now?
- Restrepo trailer