Restrepo–-titled after the documentary’s pivotal outpost, which is named for PFC Juan Restrepo, a casualty of the war–tells the story of the armed forces men stationed in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan and their agonizing day-to-day. The Korangal has been called the deadliest place on earth, and while filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger don’t shy away from the awful reality, it’s the human side of a serviceman’s life that ends up being documented most effectively.
As documentaries go, Restrepo is unique, if not terribly complex. Unlike so many documentaries that tell a story by editing together footage and interviews for the most compelling result, here the chronology drives the story. Like any war hero recounting a tale, the story moves in a straight line, from beginning to end. Along with the directors’ hands-off approach to the editing of plot, they employ an interview style that allows the interviewees a remarkable amount of freedom. These men aren’t giving an account of events as much as they’re giving an account of their emotional and mental journeys. This flexibility of topic means the men spend as much time talking about each other and their lives back home as they do the war itself and life in the Korangal.
We’ve all heard stories of disturbed vets; men unable to extract themselves from war without massive mental trauma. These are those men. The soldiers from the Korangal have seen death in war, and have killed, and trying to return to a life that doesn’t account for these two extremes seems to be as draining as the war itself. What Restrepo does so well is let the men tell their own stories without interfering. While the film does take a stance, it doesn’t manufacture one, and perhaps that is more impressive then anything else about it.
A beautifully heartbreaking and wholly true story, Retrespo is shocking in both its content and its lack of manipulation.