What you see in "Restrepo" is a soldier's view of war, as raw and as immediate as a punch in the face. It's what you don't see that's troubling.
"Restrepo" follows the men of B (for Battle) Company, 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, as they try to maintain a forward outpost in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. This area was the site of some of the nastiest and most constant combat in Afghanistan while the movie was being filmed in 2007 and 2008. (In fact, the outpost was named Restrepo in honor of a medic who was killed in action.)
The makers of "Restrepo," author Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm) and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, spent more than a year, off and on, in the trenches with Battle Company. They capture astounding footage of raw combat, along with scenes of soldiers trying to broker peace and cooperation from the Afghani locals. There are a few, all too infrequent, looks at the soldiers' downtime. But in an area that saw enemy fire nearly every day, there was little time for relaxing.
The film also features thoughtful interviews with the men of Battle Company, conducted after their return from Afghanistan. Their plain-spoken commentary about their duties and the friends they lost in war is heartbreaking in its directness.
What the filmmakers don't include in "Restrepo" is any sort of context for what the soldiers are facing. There are no interviews with generals or politicians about the strategic or global value of having an outpost in the Korengal Valley (a mission abandoned in April, when the U.S. military closed the outpost) or of fighting in Afghanistan at all.
Ignoring the debate is not the same as conceding the debate, though. If the only message you get out of "Restrepo" is that war is all hell, as Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman so famously said, then the documentary has done its job.
But if a viewer equates being pro-soldier with being pro-war, then the point of this movie has been missed.
A grimly detailed documentary about the perils of war, shown in excruciating close-up.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens today.
Rating • R for language throughout including some descriptions of violence
Running time • 93 minutes.