Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Restrepo (A movie review and catching up on my apparent absence)

Restrepo: One Platoon, One Valley, One Year Directed, Produced and Cinematography by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (July 2010), 93 minutes.

This past week has been a whirlwind, but it’s been a good whirlwind as a project that has been in the works for over 5 years has come to completion. Things are good! Yet, the craziness of work means I haven’t been around much in blogland. However, my busyness didn’t keep me from seeing a movie this weekend. Restrepo is very moving (and a little disturbing). It’s a documentary by Sebastian Junger, a journalist (and author of The Perfect Storm) who was embedded in an airborne platoon’s deployment into the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. It was a dangerous assignment as this platoon was called to establish a small base in the center of a Taliban stronghold. They named the outpost Restrepo, for the platoon’s medic who was killed early in their deployment.

This documentary was filmed with handheld recorders. If you recall the opening scenes in the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” in which the landing on Normandy was filmed on handheld recorders, it creates jumpy images and gives the viewer a sense of the chaos of battle. Unlike “Saving Private Ryan,” this documentary was real, the bullets coming in were live and dangerous and there were casualties.

The movie shows how the platoon changed during the course of their deployment. At the beginning, everyone was in uniform, but as the months wore on they became more lax. Uniforms were not always worn. The body armor was left off as the soldiers spent more time in the sun without shirts. In one of the later firefights at the outpost, the soldiers quickly jumped to their guns, firing while wearing flip flops and slippers (the one with slippers found himself in a bad situation when a hot shell casing fell into his shoe and he quickly had to get it out.

This was a personal movie for those of us who attended it. I was with a group of friends which included one of the soldiers from this platoon, who was wounded about five months into their tour. If you remember, back in October 2007, I solicited your prayers for Carl, a soldier I knew and whose parents are good friends. Sitting with Carl and his parents and other friends, I found it haunting when, in the firefight in which he was wounded, other soldiers were calling out his last name and expressing the fear that he was “bleeding out.” After the movie, we were all stunned and quiet.

Carl had seen the movie before, but his parents hadn’t. I could only imagine what they were feeling. Carl was airlifted out of the valley and into a field hospital where he had the first of many operations. Within 24 hours, he was in Germany, where his parents were able to be by his side. Today, Carl is a college student. There are visible signs of his wound on his left arm. He was honorably discharged with a 50% disability. But he’s strong and, after working with many physical and occupational therapists, he is working to join their ranks.

This movie is being shown primarily at art-type theaters. In November, it will debut on Cable TV (I think the National Geographic Channel) and will also come out on DVD. It may be hard for some to handle, but it reminds us of the sacrifices those in uniform often make. I recommend it.


  1. The documentaries out of Iraq and Afghanistan make the cable news look pathetic. On npr yesterday there was an interview with the director of a fact-based Israeli film, LEBANON, set entirely inside a tank during the invasion of that country. Apparently equally powerful.

  2. i will check this out when i see it on NG...sounds intriguing and real...

  3. I'd heard about this movie and am waiting for it to show up on Netflix. I've always liked Junger and look forward to his movie efforts.

    Good to hear prayers regarding Carl were answered. Give him our thanks for his service.


  4. Sounds like something I would like to see. I love documentaries which give you in depth news that the evening news does in a 30 second clip.

  5. I hope to see it on the National Geographic Channel. We've seen many films about WW2, Corea and Vietnam. Not yet some about Irak or Afghanistan.

  6. I love documentaries - I'll watch for this one.

  7. I'll be looking for it. I'm glad your friend made it back.

  8. Haven't seen the movie yet but I read the book(War by Sebastien Junger) Am looking forward tot he film.