This weeks movies is a "must see" movie for anyone that reads this blog. Especially in the wake of the horrific massacre that one of our soldiers in Afghanistan supposedly perpetrated this past week I think its important to see what kind of stress and pressures we ask young men (and women) to cope with overseas. This movie is not scripted, although I am sure it was heavily edited and arranged to allow a story to unfold. It doesn't have actors, although some of the soldiers on camera sure do ham it up. Its not politically correct, so don't blame me if any of it offends you. What you get is a small glimpse inside of the existence of an infantry unit in combat over the course of a deployment, just a slice mind you in 90 minutes that is all that can be expected..
Huey's Manly Movie #6 ~ Restrepo
Major Manly Stars: The soldiers of 2nd Platoon, Co B, 2-503rd Infantry (ABN), 173rd Airborne Brigade
Manly Themes: Soldiering
Plot: You see a glimpse of the life of soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and how they deal with the stress of combat, boredom of life in isolation and loss of their friends.
The first time I saw this I was blown away. The film opens with a video taken on a train in Italy as a small group of the platoon enjoy some R&R including PFC Juan Restrepo. Cockiness and attitude are the mark of young soldiers and this group is no exception. They talk about soon heading into combat with all the bravado of approximately 20 years of life and a few years of military service bring with it. The young, smiling PFC Restrepo confidently makes faces in the camera....
Juan Restrepo (on the right) before his units deployment
...a few months later he is dead, one of the first casualties of his units deployment. Up until this point this movie could of had a whole host of other names....but Restrepo is the name that it ended up with. The film is named not so much directly for PFC Restrepo, but for the outpost (OP) that the unit boldly builds down the road from its existing FOB unannounced....in the middle of the night....with hand tools....and under fire. Yep, you read that right, under fire. They dug a bit, engaged and suppressed the enemy, and then dug in again until the next incoming rounds.
During the time the movie was filmed in 2007 and 2008 much of the American focus was on Iraq. the Afghan war was almost forgotten by many Americans afflicted with the "sound bite" mentality in the media. Never less, the Korengal Valley was at the time one of the most dangerous places to be in the world. Due to its rugged landscape, terrain and remoteness the valley was a difficult place for American forces to control. That combined with a local populace that if not outright hostile were at least partially sympathetic to the militia in the area and you had an environment not enviable to be in. The film hints that the unit that the 173rd relieved had been less than optimally aggressive when dealing with the local militants and had been content with staying behind the Hesco barriers and exchanging fire when the enemy decided to. The young Captain in charge of the company chooses a more direct approach and has OP Restrepo built while also increasing patrols, trying to negotiate and communicate with the local populace and hunt the enemy at the same time. The locals are seen as stoic and sometimes confrontational figures that the platoon has to fight around, among and sometimes with....often with mixed and, on one occasion, tragic results. In one meeting he is actually told by local tribesmen that their chieftain or whomever actually wants "jihad" with the Americans so that is what they will do....to the Americans that they are communicating with!
Director and journalist Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm) and co-director/cameraman Tim Hetherington (who tragically died last year covering the conflict in Libya) follows the platoon their entire tour as embedded journalists. What you need to comprehend is that when they depict the firefight on the hilltop during Operation Rock Avalanche...that is actually happening. There are no re-shoots, there are no do overs, there are no scripts. You see rounds kick the dirt in front of the camera, you see men in the process of shooting other men, you see men die (although Junger obviously was cautious enough not to show too much to avoid being classified as so-called "war porn"). The life depicted with false machismo displays, dark humor, close camaraderie and professional dedication to their mission is something I remember and relish from my youth. Grunts (Infantrymen) get a bum rap for being rock apes and the like, but if you take of the individual tasks that they need to know and combine them into collective tasks they need to know to operate and survive in this type of combat you can see that he is no idiot. You also see that despite all of the posturing, tattoos, language and attitude that when they lose one of their own who is close to them, even these infantrymen are capable of having a breaking point which they must try and remain behind. Maybe the Staff Sergeant that went out for his own vengeance against Afghan civilians last week met his own breaking point and couldn't handle it.
40 years before the filming of Restrepo, French film maker Pierre Schoendoerffer won an academy award for his documentary The Anderson Platoon which followed a platoon of Air Cavalry soldiers for 6 weeks during 1996 during the Battle of Bong Song, the second action the 1st Cavalry had in Vietnam, right after the Battle in the Ia Drang portrayed in the 2001 movie We Were Soldiers. I have not seen the film in 20 some years but from what I remember it explored the themes of racism (a black Lieutenant leading a platoon that at one point refused to follow orders), colonialism, American societies detachment from the war and what soldiers thought was worth fighting for in terms of lives compared to their orders. Again, its been quite a few years but I remember thinking "Wow" this is real. Restrepo had the same affect on me today as that film did 20+ years ago. And it also showed a part of the same war I contributed to that I didn't see. These same soldiers were building OP Restrepo about the same time I was coming home from a relative comfortable year away as Uncle Sam's guest.
The movie ends as it begins, with the ending of the video that started the movie again showing a confident Restrepo and friends staring at the audience...
I saw the film as part of my subscription to Netflix, but as an added bonus (and remember I said I expected everyone to watch this) here is a link to the full film somebody posted you YouTube....