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4.2 out of 5 stars61
4.2 out of 5 stars
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This documentary account of a year-long deployment into "the most dangerous place in the world" follows a group of soldiers as they fight in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.

If you have been accustomed to conventional war stories, or films, this may be a bit of a shock. There are no dramatic set piece battles, in fact you never see the enemy at all. The combat that is show falls into two categories - close ups of soldiers firing automatic weapons at unseen targets and calling in air strikes on distant hill sides, or the chaotic aftermath of ambushes where the soldiers struggle to regain the initiative of combat. In both cases it is never really clear what is going on. However, it needs to be said that this portrayal is not out of keeping with other accounts of this type of combat.

But in the end it was not the story of the foot soldiers - the boots on the ground - that was most remarkable, it was the behavior shown by the leadership of the men. In one scene the commander of Second Platoon is seen in a meeting with local village elders. In this meeting he constantly swears as he talks, and while I have no idea how literal the translator would be, I can see how this would impress the leadership of the village. Equally at one time he said (I'm not quoting here) - that you need to put aside all that has happened in the past and work with me on making things better - "I've wiped the slate clean here". Well that's a wonderful idea, but it's also deeply naïve. Later in the film the same leader talks to his men after a number of troops for their "sister platoon" have been killed. He basically tells his men that they will be back in combat soon and that they will be able to gain vengeance for what has happened - less than one breathe after that he invites his men to pray. It's a deeply disturbing scene that links violence and religion.

If you can take one thing away from this film it seems to be the idea that "lions being lead by donkeys" was not just a product of the British army in WW1.

Recommended, if somewhat uncomfortable, viewing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2011
The Anglo-American military involvement in Afghanistan has now dragged on for ten years, and sadly a lot of British and American soldiers have been killed, and that's not to mention the Afghans who have had it worse for longer. I bought and watched the documentaries Restrepo and Armadillo out of respect for the documentary makers who risked their lives to make these films, and to see what I could learn about this intractable conflict from watching them...

Restrepo is a truly brilliant documentary. The first thing to say about it is that it was made in co-operation with National Geographic, and was therefore politically constrained from the start. That's why there is no overt or explicit critique of US policy in the film, and little context-setting. Instead, the film makers rather cunningly went for realism, which becomes it's own critique. One scene after another makes you realise the total futility of trying to control and dominate a place like the Korengal Valley militarily. This documentary is really stunning, and could not get more real. The opening sequence, where the vehicle the cameraman is driving in hits an IED, is as shocking as anything else, perhaps the most shocking sequence. But there's plenty more action--the American soldiers come under fire almost every day, and when things are quiet they go out looking for a fight. The reviewer SCM rightly comments on the naivete of the American captain who attempts, but fails, to win the hearts and minds of the locals, who are after all the Taliban, or Taliban supporters. The brilliance of this documentary lay in the de-briefing interviews. In one of these interviews a soldier reflects on the bungled attempt to curry favour with the locals, "...hearts and minds was not working--we're loud, we're obnoxious, we're immature at times; going in and acting like their friend doesn't work." That was a glimmer of self-awareness coming through, after the event. Another soldier remarked, in response to the cliche that you did what you had to do, "I didn't have to do any of it." This awakening comes too late, one feels. There is so much more to say about this documentary, but I'll confine myself to the observation that it was superbly edited (by Michael Levine) and artfully filmed (by the late, great, Tim Hetherington) with beautiful sweeping shots, and many telling close-ups.

Watching Armadillo, which in its own way is a superb documentary, made an interesting counterpoint to Restrepo. This film is equally artful to Restrepo, but a more orthodox effort: the film makers take the traditional approach of following a group of soldiers from training to deployment. The documentary is beautifully shot borrowing classic cinematic technique and narrative. Some reviewers have commented that Armadillo is more real than Restrepo, somehow more engaged. I agree that the film makers get close to their subject--the Danish soldiers, who by turns come across as macho and spartan, and then not much more than schoolboy porno enthusiasts. The main subject followed is a young man who seems to be out to prove himself, which he finally does by getting wounded, much to everyone's admiration. The whole thing is such a joke, and that young man is headed for a lot of nightmares. But I digress. Back to the action: the Danes go out on a "domination patrol" (no irony!). The vanguard patrol move like a herd of elephants--the cameraman has lots of time to film civilians fleeing in advance of a firefight. On go the Danes, one of them falling over after losing his balance. Finally, bang, bang, bang. They bag some enemy. But the enemy hit back a couple of days later--"they're everywhere", comments one of the Danish soldiers, referring to the Taliban. And indeed they are--they're all over this documentary. In both Restrepo and Armadillo we get to see the western soldiers talking to civilians, some of whom no doubt later pick up weapons to take a pop at the occupiers. Of course, you have to be sensitive to pick up on this, but it was as plain as day to me--and its exactly why the western armies will never win in Afghanistan: they don't know the enemy; the enemy, however, knows them all too well.

Both these documentaries are involved, engaging, and brilliantly filmed. I can't recommend one over the other--I recommend you watch them both.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Sebastian Junger first won recognition as the author of "The Perfect Storm", after which he was touted as the new Hemingway. Now having read the book, and entertaining as it may be, that is stretching it a bit. But he has used his newly won fame to branch out into another direction as a fledgling film maker. Together with British photographer Tim Hetherington, Junger spent between June 2007 to June 2008 on the front line in Afghanistan, providing reports and pictures on an assignment for Vanity Fair. As a result of this experience he also wrote the bestselling book "War" 2010. "Restrepo" was also born through this same baptism of fire.

The documentary follows the daily lives of young soldiers from the second platoon, `B' Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, airborne of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, as they face a determined Taliban enemy in the Korangal Valley in the North Eastern part of Afghanistan. Junger himself says the film is no political or moral analysis, the camera simply follows the experiences of soldiers in daily front line contact with the enemy. This it achieves very successfully, and there are times when you want to duck beneath the parapet as the bullets fly. As an experiential viewer I was almost able to understand the fear that many soldiers must have regarding a bullet with their name on it. Tragically there was one for the platoon medic PFC Juan Restrepo, who was killed in early bitter fighting. Much of the action takes place at the besieged advanced outpost named after him, which had the feeling of a Fort Apache, Fort Zindernuff, being under constant threat of attack. It almost feels at times as if you are in an awful reality game, where your life is really at stake.

It was horribly fascinating to see American troops fighting in the same forbidding graveyard terrain that past armies from Britain and Russia had fought. The British are still of course fighting in Helmand. Korangal was dubbed appropriately the "Valley of Death" by US troops who fought there. On April 14th 2010, in a depressingly familiar story, the US military withdrew from Korangal having sustained unacceptable casualties for so little progress. Forty two US servicemen died fighting in the valley, and hundreds were wounded. Many more inferior equipped Afghan soldiers with poorer ballistic protection died. It was sad to see so many affable and impressionable young men thrown into combat in a totally alien environment, much as their counterparts would have done on D Day. One young soldier describes how his hippy parents prevented him from watching anything violent on TV. The camera then shows him putting down heavy fire into the valley. Life is full of strange contradictions, and it appears as if the mistakes of the past are being eternally re-enacted in a horrible merry go round. If you wish to understand what it is to be a front line soldier then this is the film for you. The film deservedly won the Grand Jury prize for a domestic documentary at the prestigious Sundance Festival in 2010.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 September 2011
Is this a five star piece of filmmaking? No. Is it a film of five star importance? No doubt at all.

'Restrepo' follows a US Army Company as it secures an outpost in the most dangerous valley in Afghanistan. I've never been in the military, but I have heard enough soldiers talk to know that in warfare actual contacts with the enemy happen remarkably rarely. But for this group of soldiers contacts happen several times a day. The fighting is almost incessant. And the camera is ever present.

So why isn't it great filmmaking? It's a film in which the characters who feature in the post conflict interviews are not clearly followed and developed in the war footage. It is often hard to make out what's going on: there is no commentary, few captions, and poor sound quality. Scenes are collections of shots rather than sequences. The editing is functional.

But then the filmmakers have the greatest excuse of all for these limitations: they had to focus first of all on survival. And indeed one of them, Tim Hetherington, was recently to die while filming war. Their courage is remarkable beyond comprehension: they are where the soldiers are - but with the camera as their only weapon. And that is what makes this film essential viewing, and what makes Hetherington and Jurgen heroes of documentary. They have taken us to naked war, in the raw. It's a place so frightening the viewer can hardly bare it. You will find yourself wanting to shout 'get down' as these soldiers, and filmmakers, walk about, almost casually, while gunfire envelopes them. It's a film that shows us how the bravery and resilience of fighting men turns inevitably to vengeance and hurt. The interviews are in big close-up - close enough to see the damage.

There is one section of the film, the middle third, that must be the most powerful 25 minutes of film about war ever created. It shows an operation called Rock Avalanche. The very recall of the name is enough to bring blank terror to the eyes of these seasoned soldiers. And though the action footage makes for only a few minutes you will never ever forget it.

For all of us who have never fought, and possibly never could, this is as close as we will get to understanding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2011
First lets get this out of the way, this is a superb documentary, brilliantly shot, fantastically vicseral and a real thought provoker regards what is happening in the world. The issue I had with it was that it was fairly confusing....without giving anything away I only realised the main thrust of it (restrepo and who he was) at the end, this may have been intentional and in someway designed to provide understandable pathos to the overall piece but I just felt it was too distracting to merit its to speak.

There is no doubt the soldiers have an amazingly tough time of it but you only really end up feeling sorry for the local populous who are caught in the middle of something they have no power to stop...and this is the most effecting part of the whole thing. You get the feeling the film is a fairly competant allegory of exactly what is going wrong in afghan as foreign powers totally miss the point and try to offer western ideals to people who have little interest and just want to get on with there lives, which is very sad. In particular you felt the commanding officer was somewhat missguided but would I want his job? No is the answer and sadly that is the point...we send imperfect humans to do a job in our name that to be fair we don't want to do, the aims of which are highly questionable even possibly even unobtainable.

It tragic and occasionally uplifting at the same time, but mainly tragic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 26 June 2011
I'd like to create an academy for politicians which forces them to watch films like this. Tim Hetherington's death made watching that much more poignant.

It shows an American division fighting in Afghanistan. You share their primitive lives for a year - as they fight in a harsh and hostile valley of incredible beauty. You watch their leader try to win hearts and minds of the local elders, and other soldiers negotiate with tribesmen. And you are not at all surprised that they don't manage to achieve very much. You see the terror in the soldiers' eyes when they go out on patrol. You see the grief when they lose their comrades. And at the end of the film you discover that the Americans withdrew. This is the story of fighting wars in Afghanistan - a huge waste of blood and treasure and nothing ever really changes. I wonder if I'll live long enough to see a great power invade Russia again - it's that dumb. It's also worth noting from the 'extras' how combat ruins the lives your own men - they live with the horrors for the rest of their lives, and some don't ever manage to get over it.

Respect to Tim Hetherington who had the courage to follow these adventures and communicate what it's really like.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 28 October 2010
I saw this film yesterday at the Harbour Lights cinema in Southampton, one hell of a film. Beatmessiah has already summed it up pretty well, it was visceral and emotional but also inspiring. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan there is no doubting the fine character of many of these young people fighting the Taliban is such difficult and confusing tactical and cultural conditions. And yes without a doubt the impromptu disco to Sam Fox's "Touch Me" is hilarious!
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 21 December 2010
A good documentary about life in the 'stan, but I wouldnt say it was the 'greatest war film ever'. With due respect to the soldiers involved, this was not a major full on combat operation, and the facilities at the OP were pretty good. Most of the firefights seem to involve heavily armed troops behind there hesco shooting 'the enemy' using all the high tech gear at their disposal. Listening to the company commander at the shuras demonstrated the problem - they thought that bringing the money and uncle sam's way was what the locals wanted. I bet they just wanted to be left alone. They still hadnt learnt to take off sunglasses when speaking to locals. The dead children, which were just passed off as relatives of the enemy was I guess a way of avoiding the guilt. If you want to read about how bad things can be, I suggest 'The Matterhorn' about a company in vietnam. That was really scary and harrowing.

That said, I wouldnt want to do it,so respect to them, and those injured and killed. There were there, doing the business, and I'm sat at home.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2013
A interesting insight into what war was like in Afghanistan in 2007, a whole 6 years after it all began and they were still dishing out orders to hold onto these outposts in the middle of nowhere, cut off from any ground support and relying on helicopters bringing in supplies and reinforcements. They hold very little to no strategic importance, other than making themselves seen and heard, trying to flush the taliban and al qaeda out of the mountains. Surrounded on all sides by Taliban and locals, some hostile and some who you get the feeling just wished they would leave them in peace. Watching this and seeing men risk their lives on a daily basis and see those that paid the ultimate sacrifice, it does make you many more outposts were there like Restrepo? and how many more paid with their lives, and for what? for them to abandon them, having made no progress in the region.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 2011
I would say this film is awesome, but for the incredible nature of it i can't and won't. This film is about war. It's the most honest, heart wrenching, film about war i've seen.

The film follows a (US) Platoon deployed to the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. It documents their lives and how they live day-to-day in the bunkers and holes they call camp Restrepo. Raw footage shows these men fighting and dying for their cause.

It's important to say here that camp Restrepo lies in bandit country - on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It comes under constant contact, and the lives of the individuals based there are made hell.

This film takes you on a journey - it's maybe emphasised by the fact Tim Hetherington (director) was killed in Libya for doing what he believed in.

A gritty, frontline experience and recommended.
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