January 29, 2010 / 7:49 AM / 9 years ago

"Restrepo" an engaging study of Afghan conflict

PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - One of the most dangerous sites in the Afghanistan war gets a little bit less deadly thanks to the soldiers in “Restrepo,” an on-the-ground documentary following a single platoon through its year-long deployment.

It’s hard to imagine distributors mounting a successful theatrical run at this point, but the filmmakers’ credentials and the immediacy of the material should draw attention on cable and DVD.

Sebastian Junger (“The Perfect Storm”), no stranger to men doing dangerous work, teams with Tim Hetherington to shadow a group from the 173rd Airborne Brigade as they enter Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, a region where it’s not uncommon to get into three or four firefights in a single day.

Frustrated by the stranglehold Taliban fighters have on the valley, the men built a strategically located new outpost and named it for a medic killed early on in their mission. While we don’t observe much of the construction, we see how bare-bones it is, especially at the beginning: excavated dirt and rocks are loaded into sack-walls to provide some defense against incoming fire; human waste is burned in stoves.

Hetherington and Junger sit in on “shura” meetings with local elders, watching as soldiers try to settle disputes about everything from treatment of locals who have been arrested to the disappearance of a man’s cow. But they also go on patrols alongside the men, come under fire, and, in one moving scene, are on the spot as soldiers climb a hill to find that one of their comrades has been killed.

Follow-up interviews conducted three months after the deployment give the troops a chance to recount things the cameras didn’t catch and to reflect on what they did. Surprisingly, this one-on-one material is often more affecting than the main event.

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