The Korengal Valley in Eastern Afghanistan is roughly 6 miles long, 6 miles wide, and located in Eastern Afghanistan, in Kunar Province, tucked up against our “good friends” in Pakistan. It’s been called the most dangerous posting in the U.S. military. In April of 2010, the US military abandoned the Valley, after 50 soldiers had been killed in that one small valley alone, from 2001 until 2010.
Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s new film, released to DVD on December 7 of 2010, is a powerful, highly acclaimed (won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Prize last year for Documentary category, and has a 96% positive rating by all critics) portrayal of the men of Battle Company, 2nd Platoon, 173 Airborne Brigade. It is a visual supplement to Junger’s book “WAR”. I cannot recommend either work more highly. I recently discovered the video, produced by National Geographic Films, and found a copy, in all places, in a Red Box kiosk outside the local Walgreens drug store, after Blockbuster said they could not get it.
Junger is perhaps most famous for his book, “The Perfect Storm”, which was the foundation for the top rated movie of the same name a few years back. I did not read the Perfect Storm book, so I was unfamiliar with Junger as a journalist, but he is an extremely gifted and insightful author, and presents the story of the men of Battle Company with a keen insight into their daily lives, and the stunning danger they faced every single day. What’s more, he does it in a completely “politically neutral” way, letting the facts speak for themselves, with no second guessing or pontificating about what’s right or wrong with the Afghanistan war. The old Fox News tease line, “we report, you decide” applies, I guess.
I was riveted by the film, watching it three times in a two day period, and then immediately ordered an online version of the book. Both are some of the finest works I have ever read or seen of men at war, in fact they might be the best of the genre, and I have ready many scores of the greatest ones in my lifetime.
The film’s title, “Restrepo”, is both the name of the outpost they established a few miles south of the KOP (Korengal OutPost), and the name of the Army medic killed in action early in their 15 month deployment in 2007. Juan Restrepo, or “Doc” as his buddies called him. They named the outpost in his honor, and it came to have special meaning for them all.
There are no actors in this film, and you’ll never see a film like this out of Hollywood. It is 100% real people, real emotions and real courage displayed by men under the harshest and most dangerous of conditions, and Junger and Hetherington risk their lives as well to capture it all, from the boredom, the camaraderie of the men, to the unbelievable violence of the thunderous firefights that occur almost daily, sometimes even four or five times a day. The Korengal Valley is also the same identical location where Staff Sgt. (then – Specialist) Salvatore Giunta won the Medal of Honor for saving one of his men from being dragged off by two Taliban fighters, although Giunta was not attached to Battle Company, but another unit. It’s also the same spot that Navy SEAL Marcus Lutrell became the only surviving member of a 4 man recon team inserted onto the top of a 9,000 ft mountain in 2005 to hunt down a high value Taliban commander. His three SEAL team mates were killed when they were ambushed by over 100 Taliban, , and an additional 16 Special Operations soldiers were all killed when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down with an RPG while attempting to rescue them. Sounds like a pretty dangerous place to me.
The best part of Restrepo is that Junger allows you to form your own opinion of the mission, the war and the men who fought it, whether you be liberal or conservative, hawk or dove, Republican, Democrat, Independent, or Christian, Jew or Atheist. Throughout the brutal action and horrific firefights, Junger cuts the film with revealing interviews with many of the soldiers to expose why men subject themselves to such shocking risks, creating portraits of soldiers getting through 15 months of life or death situations by putting their lives in each others hands, and not being afraid to give their lives to save their friends.
It is a staggeringly emotional film, and I urge you to see it, if you have any respect for the kids that populate our Armed Forces, or even if you don’t, this film will make you think, and appreciate what the boots on the ground go through, whether you agree with their commanders and politicians, or not.
I don’t know if they still give Academy Awards for documentaries (I think they do), but if they do, no other candidates need apply, this one is the real deal. It’s the kind of movie you will want to watch over and over again. I know I will. It’s a powerful tribute to the everyday grunts bravely serving our country across the globe.