For one year, film makers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger accompanied and documented the Second Platoon on their posting in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, one of the most strategically important but deadliest spot in the Middle East. From their footage they've put together Restrepo, a riveting documentary which focuses on the basic observation of men at war.
We get to know the soldiers as people, we relate to them, and we sympathize with them when they suffer a loss. An early casualty was Private Doc 'Restrepo', after whom the troop subsequently named their hand-made mountain-side outpost. In time, the base comes to represent the teamwork and companionship of this tight-knit fraternity, but at first it only represents hell on earth. They receive enemy fire multiple times a day, and their best-laid plans to smoke out Taliban insurgents come up empty-handed, even ending tragically in the harrowing Operation Rock Avalanche. The film may have been made a bit better had Hetherington and Junger actually attempted to say something with their material (besides “war is hell” which we already know), and it could have benefited from some structure, but the story they tell is compelling and informative nonetheless. Its a credit to rerecording mixer Coll Anderson that we can make anything out of the grainy production tracks. Good job!
An Oscar nom for Best Documentary seems in order, and I see no reason why it shouldn't get one with its combination of zeitgeisty subject matter and dramatic impact. But of course, it's got stiff competition, and as I've stated before, this branch can be unpredictable at times.
*** out of ****