Sunday, June 26, 2011

Restrepo (2010)

    Restrepo (2010) could best be described as footage in search of a point.  Not so much a glance into the real war in Afghanistan as a jumbled, but rather somehow emotionally distant collection of on-site footage and post deployment interviews.  Right or wrong, Restrepo makes the American soldiers appear to unworldly, albeit well-trained (if not supported) for combat, pawns in a political strategy that has no clear method of succeeding.
     I cannot fault the combat camera work; were people shooting anywhere near me, I would not at all be concerned where my camera was pointing (even if those were the shots which I was endeavoring to capture).  Yet it is the lack of kinetic impact that makes this seem listless and without urgency.  Instead of giving the viewer a better understanding of who Juan "Doc" Restrepo was (or even how his name came to be chosen for the outpost), he is simply the most mentioned of the early casualties of Battle Company.  This decision leaves the project without any emotional weight -- absent what the viewer may bring to it based upon feeling about the war in Afghanistan or war in general -- and can leave the audience asking the unfortunate question: "Why do I care about these people?".  That question is wholly in mind as the death a Staff Sergeant is supposed to bring some emotional weight but instead makes one particular soldier appear to be unable to endure the stress of combat and the loss of his NCO while the rest of the men continue to do their jobs.  To me -- and I am shocked at my response -- I found this affected soldier to be weak, to be a detriment to those around him for losing his shit before the fighting was done.  It had the wrong kind of emotional impact.
     While there is no doubt that much of the tension these men are experiencing lies in waiting for someone to attack them, that doesn't translate in this film.  The most evocative and effective footage of the film shows up at the two and half minutes in and is not only never matched, but not even approximated in the remaining hour and a half.  The roughhousing and crude camaraderie of the men plays as juvenile.  The interactions between the locals (shuras) showcase the lack of understanding and cooperation on both sides, which is undoubtedly accurate but without any further insight to what this actually means for the stated goal of the mission in the Korengal Valley.
     In watching Restrepo, I felt neither emotionally invested nor intellectually satisfied that I had achieved a better understanding of what these men had gone through.  I didn't feel the weight of time on these men as they lived for over a year with daily attacks on their OPs and even more on their patrols.  I felt I was left with an immature, semi-professional assemblage of footage and added (and much needed) follow-up interviews that simply didn't contribute a better understanding of the men or the mission.  I know this film has received a lot of love, but my advice would be to find a better documentary or seek out one of the better books written about the war in Afghanistan (to date).

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