Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington followed an American platoon as it attempted to tame Afghanistan’s remote Korangal Valley in 2007–2008. The results are an okay book, War, and an excellent documentary, Restrepo.
At a recent sold-out screening, Sgt. Brendan C. O’Byrne, one of the soldiers featured in the film, was asked what he’d like to see happen as a result of the movie, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. “I want people to know that [the soldiers] are heroes . . . to know what the guys are going through.” The use of tense is interesting, as the United States pulled out of Korangal in April. “Personally I’m happy no one has to die there [any more],” O’Byrne noted.
Junger and Hetherington capture the soldiers’ anguish, boredom, brotherhood, excitement, and fear. Footage taken at Restrepo, a 15-man outpost in the valley, is interspersed with interviews conducted post-deployment. Just a few minutes into the movie, an IED explodes --- no one dies, but all are jarred. Volunteering for the army doesn’t make the prospect of being killed while in it any easier. A soldier asks the filmmakers to give him a few minutes as he tries to describe an ambush, in which several people were killed and wounded. He has no words, but a muscle twitching near his eye says much.
What the movie doesn’t portray are politics, either the governments’ or the soldiers. It doesn’t show the bloody gruesomeness that resulted from almost daily altercations, in which the weaponry would get hot enough to melt, nor are we shown the enemy. Some viewers will leave the theater wishing they’d seen everything the soldiers saw; others will leave feeling thankful for having seen 90 minutes’ worth, grateful to those who have seen or will see it all.