Sundance Film Festival follow up: RESTREPO

The Korengal Valley is one of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan, so dangerous, in fact, that it’s known amongst soldiers as “the deadliest place on Earth.” It’s also the setting of RESTREPO, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary on the Second US Platoon that was stationed there for 14-months between May 2007 and July 2008. Often called the nonfiction HURT LOCKER, RESTREPO takes an unflinching look at the unimaginably difficult lives of a group of closely-knit soldiers who struggle daily with the strange juxtaposition of a life filled with both danger and tedium.

Junger, best known for his novel The Perfect Storm, and Hetherington, whose 2007 documentary THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK won much acclaim for its depiction of the genocide in Darfur, joined forces to make a film that would take no overt political stance, because, as Junger says, the soldiers take no such stance themselves. And though it grossed only just over $1 million, Hetherington and Junger have inscribed “a place for its characters in a tradition of war poetry stretching back to the epics of the ancient world” (A.O. Scott). While RESTREPO doesn’t seek to incite political debate and remains unquestionably dedicated to accurately portraying the men of the Second Platoon, a film like this can’t help but raise questions like, was the Korengal Valley mission a failed strategy, just a costly mistake? The US pulled all troops out in April of this year, a few months after RESTRPO’S Sundance debut. I’m not supposing there’s any direct link between the two events, but when Junger compares Korengal Valley to the bloody yet pointless Battle of Gettysburg, one has to wonder if he’s right.

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