EIFF 10: Restrepo Review
Festivals are ridden with the celluloid corpses of aspiring film-makers with plenty of college courses under their belt but not always much in the way of compelling vision. Good fiction is notoriously hard to write, so sometimes it's left to the raw drama and comedy of real life documentary to make an impact on the viewer. Restrepo is one such example.
Korengal valley is the most dangerous and strategically important area of the Afghanistan conflict. In 2007, filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger were allowed complete access to the U.S. Platoon deployed there. The result is a shocking, moving and even occasionally funny account of the realities of war, good and bad. The ordeals these men have to face on a daily basis and the way they cope with them add a well needed human face to a conflict we only really see from a distance through carefully edited newsreels.
Stripped of the gloss of Hollywood reenactments and the safety net that provides, Restrepo offers a new perspective on the men in the front-line in the middle-east. Away from the headline-baiting cover-ups and controversies offered up by the likes of Standard Operating Practice or Taxi To The Dark Side, Restrepo's strength is in its simplicity. Rather than trying to score political points it focuses purely on a taking a step back and watching a group of men just fighting to stay alive until the end of their deployment and hopefully claim some kind of victory against the Taliban while they're at it.
Whether it be recounting how they we forced to work for several days solid switching between digging and fire-fighting with the enemy in a desperate bid to build the eponymous new outpost, or relaxing during well earned downtime, Restrepo builds a view of the real sense of camaraderie and extraordinary toughness of spirit the men possess given the nature of their position. This is made explicit in one particular mission as we watch as the men have to deal with the violent death of a close friend amidst a fire-fight in which they have to keep pressing on to defend their own lives. It is truly gut-wrenching stuff.
It's all to easy to forget while sitting back home that these are ordinary young men, not gung-ho movie superheros dealing with these most intense experiences which, they admit themselves, nothing could prepare them for. Anyone who watches Restrepo and doesn't come away with a renewed respect for the men of the armed forces needs to stop for a minute and put their humanity ahead of their politics.
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