Pro-war. Anti-war. It doesn’t matter. Restrepo is a film you must see. It’s as gripping as documentaries get and timely. This look at the year in the life of the soldiers of 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne, who are stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley (an area called “the most dangerous place on Earth”), is a reminder that war is truly Hell. They spend their days at Outpost Restrepo, which is named after one of their fallen numbers. There they eat together, play together, mourn together, kill together and die together. There is no apparent political agenda here, and that makes it so either side of the war fence can justify their arguments with this film. What both sides will agree upon, however, is that this movie moves you.
Anyone who thinks the American soldiers in combat are one-dimensional will be in for a rude awakening. Yes, these men are often arrogant and cold-hearted, but they also have compassion and sympathy. They know they have a job to do, and part of that job is winning the trust of the villagers. That, of course, is not an easy task, and watching the men come under sudden and deadly fire several times throughout the film will start to transform the way you look at the villagers, too. What first appeared to be old farmers start to look like shifty, evil opportunists who can’t be trusted. On the flip side of that, these villagers are dealing with foreign invaders who accidentally kill them and their livestock. The film does not shy away from the fact that this mistrust goes both ways and is detrimental to both sides.
It’s rare when you get a documentary this close to the source. It will give viewers a new understanding of what these men and women (though it’s only men in this case) go through while fighting what many think is an impossible war to win. You get a sense that these men know this, too, but plow on regardless of the outcome.
As one soldier is reminded, he isn’t hunting animals, he is hunting humans. These men are also being hunted, and viewers get to be right in the thick of it. It isn’t a pleasant place, and it is far from romantic (Hollywood tends not to show soldiers burning their own feces), but it is real, and that’s what makes it so unforgettable.