Restrepo is a 2010 documentary film by journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. It was nominated at the 83rd Academy Awards for Best Documentary Film but eventually lost to The Inside Job. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered.
Restrepo follows the soldiers of the Second Platoon, Battle Company of the U.S. Army in Korengal Valley of Afghanistan considered by some journalists as the deadliest place on earth. Restrepo also takes its name from a Colombian-born naturalized US Citizen field medic who was killed in action defending the Korengal Valley. Their objective was to clear the Korengal Valley of insurgency (it was a known refuge for the Taliban) at the same time gaining the trust and confidence of the local populace, a monumental task considering the dangerous encounters, firefights and other challenges the soldiers face everyday. This pretty much sums up what this film is about. There is no structured narrative to speak of here. It just follows the day to day lives of the soldiers for one year. In fact, there is no narration here at all. The film just moves from one day to the next, one mission to the next with the occasional confessional interviews by the soldiers themselves. This format may seem jarring at first, especially if you’re used to watching documentaries with sumptuous narration, or a structured plot but after a few minutes, you’ll forget your qualms about the format. It simply works which is quite an achievement for the filmmakers who embedded themselves into the regiment putting their lives on the line. (One of the filmmakers Tim Hetherington was recently killed while covering the 2011 Libyan Civil War)
This documentary isn’t for the squeamish. There are graphic scenes here and coupled with death and destruction that permeates the Valley, you won’t be able to make it through this film without your stomach turning. But this film isn’t all about the violence. Restrepo also explores the emotional breakdown and the post-traumatic stress disorder that the platoon endures. In fact some of the breakdown scenes is so downright shocking and terrifying it will really leave an impression long after the movie has ended. Even the day to day ‘life at the outpost’ scenes are heartbreaking knowing that at any moment these soldiers will die. The documentary achieves this without delivering any kind of bias, political slant, or proselytizing making this a different kind of documentary (as compared to the Academy Award winning ‘The Inside Job’ which is a highly political documentary or even ‘Waiting for Superman’).
Restrepo is an up close and personal account of how a war has affected a group of soldiers. It’s an unflinching, disturbing and very visceral experience that hits too close to home with its powerful and harrowing imagery, heartbreaking confessions, and unbiased editing. No other war documentary has me this moved. I can’t even begin to imagine the horrors of war endured by those brave men who have fought. This documentary is highly recommended and for the record, ‘Restrepo’ and ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ are clearly superior to ‘The Inside Job’ which made me wonder why the latter film won the Oscar.