IF your view of the war in Afghanistan is shaped by what you read in the New York Times or see on the news, then you can be forgiven if you believe that it’s all drones dropping bombs on the Taliban in the mountains along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you want to know what it is really like, then take some time and view the movie RESTREPO being released by Outpost Films and National Geographic Entertainment on June 25, 2010.
RESTREPO is the work of Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington as they spent months chronicling the 15 month deployment of 2nd platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne out of Vicenza, Italy in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Dubbed the most dangerous place in Afghanistan, if not the world, the Korengal Valley is the front line in the fight against the Taliban and the men of 2nd platoon are the tip of the spear. OP Restrepo, named after their medic Juan Restrepo who was killed early in the deployment, is the home of 2nd platoon and it sits inside the enemy’s territory. Built on the exact location from which the Taliban would attack the Korengal Outpost of B Company, OP Restrepo eased the pressure on every other American unit posted in the valley; it became the magnet to which every Taliban bullet was directed.
Junger and Hetherington dug in with the men of 2nd platoon at times taking fire 4 – 5 times a day all while filming these men and documenting their story. There are no politics in this documentary, no geo-political musings, just the harsh conditions of the life and death struggles endured by this family - 2nd platoon.
RESTREPO is not a Hollywood cinematic attempt at war; RESTREPO is war in all its raw grittiness. What I feared would be another “Jarhead,” RESTREPO was anything but. Chaotic and uncertain, Junger and Hetherington follow along and film as 2nd platoon patrols the nearby villages and become involved in one firefight after another. In one particularly tense moment Junger and Hetherington are along as the Company takes part in an operation dubbed Rock Avalanche. Two days in the platoon is ambushed by the Taliban who attack from a mere few meters away, killing a beloved sergeant.
Through it all you capture one over lying truth to the whole situation; these men love each other deeply. They are willing to do things that their head clearly tells them not to do because one of their own needs them. They refuse to let each other down and when one of their family is taken from them, you can feel the pain within.
Interspersed throughout are interviews with the men of 2nd platoon done after they returned to Italy. These interviews provide the only narration for the event you are a part of and are a powerful reminder of the level of emotion and stress that these men endured for those 15 months in the Korengal. Haunting memories are recounted and an eye opening level of introspection is evident that would have been impossible to obtain if these interviews had been completed while deployed, where they had to lock it all away and just continue to do their job.
RESTREPO is an uncensored look at what the men of 2nd platoon endured, what they did to get through and what they are doing to continue to process their time in the Korengal valley. This is their story; you can draw your own conclusions, about whether the US should have been there or not, the men of 2nd platoon went there because they were told to and they left when it was time to let another unit move in and take over where they left off. Believe all you want about war, but without a dose of reality to challenge you your beliefs may just hold you back from obtaining the truth; RESTREPO is the dose of reality you need.
The movie ends with a foot note: “In late 2009, the U.S. military began withdrawing from the Korengal Valley. Nearly 50 American soldiers died fighting there.”
In truth, 42 American’s died in the Korengal Valley.
RESTREPO opens on Friday, June 25, 2010 and is Rated R.