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In the Valley of Death

Restrepo goes deep into the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan’s deadliest region / by Bret McCabe


hat are we doing?” That’s the question one

member of Second Platoon, Battle Company, 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, remembers asking himself when he first laid eyes on the Korangal Valley in Eastern Afghanistan. In May 2007, he and his unit were deployed to this remote locale, dubbed the “Valley of Death” by American military personnel due to the amount of fighting it has seen.

The Korangal Outpost—the “Kop”—is a small miliar to the genre, with camp located among one of the valley’s rocky crags. soldiers acting like the In every direction lies unforgiving terrain of tribal young men they are villages, scattered brush and dirt—all of it hostile. during downtime back As a different member of Second Platoon says in at the Kop base and Outpost Restrepo, erected a few months into their tour and Restrepo, the documentary about the unit’s deploy- named for a fallen comrade, PFC Juan “Doc” Restrepo. But the movie’s baseline ment here, the Kop is at the end of the road, and experience is completely different. The crackle of gunfire and low-end thud of where the road ends the Taliban begins. artillery begins to feel almost constant during Restrepo, so much so that the American journalist Sebastian Junger and Brit- few moments of near silence feel uncannily tense. ish photojournalist Tim Hetherington spent a year In fact, Restrepo is less narrative documentary than experimental sound embedded with these men, and the riveting footage and visual immersion. It captures the unit’s weekly “shura” meetings with the they brought back and assembled into Restrepo is area’s village elders about trying to help them fight the enemy—the strategic unlike any other document of the ongoing War on value of the Kop is to provide security to a road, keeping goods and services Terror. While Junger and Hetherington do include flowing to the villages so that they don’t turn to Taliban for support—but for a few interviews with the men after they the most part its point of view is that of the grunts doing their job. And leave the valley, and very occasionally add what they do is burn their waste, dig in their positions to provide cover music to accompany their footage, for from the nearly 360 degree field of fire, and try to stay alive. During one most of the movie’s 94 minutes, all that it multiple-day maneuver, Operation Rock Avalanche, this job becomes offers is what the lenses and microphones so intensely anxious that it’s amazing some video artist hasn’t tried captured of the soldier’s experience. It’s requesting the raw footage to be projected in continuous loop on four walls of a square gallery space and titled it “P.T.S.D.” less cinema verite than an ambient recording of surviving hell. What are we doing? Junger and Hetherington never insult their auSince the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, dience’s intelligence by assuming that they can answer that question, this military campaign and occupation but it swirls through the head like the near-constant gunfire in the dishas become the most constantly docu- Restrepo will tance. The filmmakers claim Restrepo is apolitical, as it doesn’t try to be released mented war in history, with a deluge of December 7 politicize the Second Platoon’s presence in Afghanistan. But Restrepo embedded documentaries hitting movie on DVD and also possesses the unnerving power to elicit strong emotions—which Blu-ray, from theaters and home video beginning in in and of itself is a political response to a military operation that is Virgil Films and 2004. Restrepo includes many scenes faseven years old, with no end in sight. Entertainment. 48


Dimple Records' In-Store Magazine, December 2010  
Dimple Records' In-Store Magazine, December 2010  

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