I’m not one to usually go for documentaries. Hell, the last one within recent memory was Art & Copy, a documentary about advertising (and to some extent graphic design). Usually though, the topic of the film really has to interest me in order for me to want to see any particular film. So was the case with Restrepo, a documentary about US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Also buoyed by several blogs and critics that have been showering praise on the doc, I was very excited to find out that Consolidated Theatres was bringing it in for a release on Oahu.
What I liked or found interesting:
- Politics were not involved. The entire film is shot on the ground with our troops in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. There are no interviews with politicians, high ranking officials, generals, or anyone back home. All we get to see are the conditions that these men have to face everyday, the emotions they feel under this high pressure assignment, and their fight for survival in our mission to get rid of the Taliban.
- The filmmakers show the right footage. Usually in war films the filmmakers like to make things look as realistic as possible, depicting the battlefield as a brutal place where wartime injuries can lead to some pretty gruesome scenes. That is not the case with Restrepo. With the war in Afghanistan still going on, it is currently a war that is fresh in the hearts and minds of Americans. As such, the filmmakers are sensitive to this fact and go out of their way to show us the right footage. Are there scenes of soldiers engaging the Taliban? Are there scenes of soldiers doing crazy things in their downtime? Are emotional scenes between soldiers shown? Is death depicted in the film? The answer to all these questions is ‘yes.’ However they are depicted in a way that is appropriate to the film and respectful to the content that is being presented.
- The name of the film fits the person and outpost that it is based on. If you watched the trailer (please make sure to watch the trailer) you’ll know that Restrepo was a soldier from the platoon in the film who died while in combat and is also the name of the forward outpost that the soldiers created in the aftermath of his death as a way to honor and remember him. This tenacity and unrelentingness of Restrepo (the man) is carried on throughout the film, in both the nature of the outpost as well as the theme of the film.
- There was a Hawaii connection. Halfway through the film the soldiers are shown relaxing while they have some downtime and one of them begins to play a song on Restrepo’s guitar. There’s a long intro, but eventually the soldier starts singing and all of a sudden I realize that he’s singing I’ll Never Forget Where I’m From by Justin Young. It definitely was a moment from the film I’ll never forget. All the way in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan a little piece of Hawaii finds its way there. The song is sung for a good minute and it definitely hammered home the reality of the film for me.
What made the film extra special is that Consolidated Theatres setup a special question and answer session after our screening of the film with two of the soldiers that were stationed with the platoon from the film. Both Sgt Mitchell Raeon and Sgt John Clinard spent about 30 minutes after our film answering questions from the audience. It’s one thing to see a film and think that you understand it, it’s quite another to have people that experienced what happened in the film who were also there, here to tell you that ‘yes, it’s as bad as it looks in the film.’ Hearing they’re personal stories and insight into how things were really made this movie experience special. I can’t begin to imagine what they went through–even though I’ve seen the film.
Several highlights from the Q&A:
- Both of them thought that the film was an accurate representation of what they went through and would urge anyone to watch the film.
- This was Sgt Clinard’s first time seeing the film and while he enjoyed it, he was blown away by the number of people that turned out to see the film.
- Both had respect for the filmmakers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington both of whom went through the same experience as the soldiers did as well as for the portrayal of the men from second platoon.
If you read this blog post, I highly recommend you watch the trailer and both parts of the Q&A that we recorded (link to part 2 below).
RestrepoTheMovie.com – The official movie website.
Into the Valley of Death – Filmmaker Sebastian Junger’s article in the Jan 2008 Vanity Fair that talked about the struggles of soldiers in the Korengal Valley.
War – Sebastian Junger’s book about his time spent with the soldiers depicted in his film Restrepo.
Film details soldiers’ pain – William Cole’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser article about the film & special screening.