“Restrepo,” a feature-length documentary, is as exciting and suspenseful as any summer blockbuster out there. More than that, it’s important that it be seen. The film follows a platoon of U.S. soldiers stationed in a 15-man outpost on a war-torn cliff in one of the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan in 2007. (See the trailer here.)
The 94-minute film is the experience of one platoon assigned the task of securing a hilltop combat outpost as part of the Army’s offensive in Kunar province, near the Afghan/Pakistan border. In the words of Captain Dan Kearney, “the road ends at the Korengal outpost and where the road ends, the Taliban begins.” The title “Restrepo” has two meanings. It is named after young Pfc. Juan S. Restrepo, a medic who was killed early in the deployment. The second meaning is the name of the outpost that his fellow soldiers built in his name.
Although it may lack the predetermined melodrama of other war narratives on film, “Restrepo” is the most intimate experience of war I’ve seen on the screen. The two filmmakers, writer Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm) and photojournalist Tim Hetherington, hunkered down with the soldiers for many stretches of a 14-month deployment.
No doubt the Hollywood establishment will have frustration dealing with the success of “Restrepo.” Chances are they will view it as just the latest in some seemingly endless glut of war documentaries about troops in the second Gulf War. That it is a film without advocacy on the matter of the U.S. presence there makes it unlikely that most of the media will know what to do with the film. Because it avoids giving the viewer answers, it has the subtle effect of conjuring up ones own questions while viewing the film.