This documentary follows a platoon of US soldiers as they enter into a 15 month deployment within the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.
Not long after arriving one of their own is shot and killed.
His name, Restrepo.
Shortly after his death the platoon push forward further into enemy territory and establish an out post on the side of an extremely inhospitable mountain, which they name Restrepo in honor of their fallen friend.
Once established at Restrepo, the film makers , apart from providing footage of gun fights, reactions to casualties and the overt machinations of war, also follow the platoon as they attempt to engage with local villagers in order to gain their trust.
To this end the platoon leaders meet with village elders on a regular basis to try and pump them for information and assure them that they are their friends and that the Taliban are indeed their enemy.
One US solider, in attempt to gain the villagers trust, assures the village elders that they will be rich and gain great wealth from the interventions of the US soldiers who are, after all, only trying to improve the living conditions of all of the villagers.
He then promises that if the villagers co-operate he will “ flood this whole place with money and with projects and with health care and everything”.
The village elders remain reticent and there are no further translations provided by the documentary makers as to their verbal responses they give the soldiers.
Later in the documentary one villager responds to the constant questioning of the soldiers with guns by saying “if we let you know about the Taliban, then we will get killed.”
Time and time again the locals tell the soldiers in their area that they are tired of the constant intrusion into their way of life that the military brings.
Tired of all the deaths of innocent farmers who are simply going about their daily lives as best they can in the artificially constructed war zone that has been created by the outpost of Restrepo .
Prior to the arrival of the soldiers and the construction of the outposts, their area had not been a war zone.
This is a fact that seems to be continuously and irrevocably lost on the soldiers as one by one they express their frustration over the locals lack of willingness ness to provide them with information about the enemy, whilst they themselves engage in the tactic of raiding and searching the homes of villagers at will, and ordering them around with weapons pointed at them.
One can potentially understand why the villagers are uncooperative with the soldiers under such conditions.
Add to this the hostility with which the platoon leader treats villagers.
When ask about the fate of several locals who have been detained by the soldiers, the platoon leaders exasperated response is to say “you’re not understanding that I don’t fucking care.”
To the soldier it seems, the locals do not have the right to either seek answers regarding their own missing or even to grieve over the wanton destruction of their village or to have the killing of family members even acknowledged.
This is made further evident when during the course of a bombing mission designed to kill Taliban rebels, several innocent local village women and children are killed.
The platoon’s leader’s response to the killing of the villagers takes little more than 60 seconds and consists of him admitting that he considers the mission to be a failure because they killed villagers.
This overall lack of empathy pervades almost every interaction that the Americans have with the locals and it indeed pervades the entire film.
It seems a particularly cruel stance for the soldiers to take especially considering that their own outpost, Restrepo , is named in honor of one of their own fallen men.
Clearly these soldiers both understand and feel compassion, sorrow and a deep sense of loss when one of their own is harmed and yet it would seem that apparently, in Afghanistan, only the American’s have the right to feel grief at the untimely death of a friend.
Throughout the documentary the film makers juxtapose the lack of empathy expressed toward the locals and the enemy, by providing live vision of gun fights in which soldiers are killed, interspersed with footage of those soldiers who survived their deployment intact, grieving for and both speaking respectfully about the deaths of several of the soldiers within their company, their level of fear for their own lives and their feelings toward their own loved ones back at home.
Yet still, even once returned home, the soldiers continue speaking fondly of the “high” they felt whilst engaging with the enemy in gun fights and killing them.
This sentiment is further emblazoned on the viewer’s mind as the documentary maker shows live footage of soldiers whopping it up and on the whole celebrating the demise of the enemy with great celebratory zeal.
Strangely enough though, throughout the entire documentary, there is never any actual footage of the so-called enemy.
In this documentary, war seems to be nothing more than the exchange of pain for pain and it doesn’t particularly seem that the Americans care too much exactly who they are inflicting their pain on.
Yes, at first the fact that the platoon leader takes the time to speak with the village elders appears as a sign of respect, but you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface of it all for it to be revealed as being little more than a fact-finding mission.
It would be interesting to know whether or not the villagers in the Korengal Valley ever did benefit from the presence of the soldiers there.
Did they end up with, as promised by the platoon leader promised them, great wealth and extensive health care?
Or were they simply left to patch up their bombed homes and heal their injured as best they could on their own?
I admit that at the end of the documentary I felt far more empathy for the villagers than for the soldiers, who yes did indeed suffer and die, but unlike the villagers, where not forced to be there and are not forced to live out the rest of their lives there.
I can’t help but wonder how many of the villagers would have appreciated being given a 15 month furlough to Italy, or any other country for that matter, far away from the hardships of their daily life and the endless fighting in which they’d become nothing more than mere pawns for both sides to play with.
This documentary, to the film maker’s credit, reveals just as much about the impositions that the arrival of soldiers in Afghanistan placed on the local villagers as it does about the fighting that occurred in Afghanistan.
For this reason alone I find Restrepo, when viewed with an unbiased eye, to be an outstanding documentary.