Thursday, April 7, 2011

Doc RESTREPO Is a 15-Month Deployment Encapsulated in a Feature-Length Film

I’ve just watched the documentary RESTREPO and I’m not sure what I think of it.

Here’s the official explanation from the film’s website
RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, "Restrepo," named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military.

This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.
The Los Angeles Times quote on the site reads: “Coming after The Hurt Locker...This movie gives you the same edge-of-your-seat sense of suspense and awe.”

I would perhaps agree with the same sense of awe – for what our military is asked to do and what they actually do – but I would not agree about the same sense of suspense.

While I found THE HURT LOCKER a compelling story from the moment it started, I found RESTREPO confusing and disoriented. And while I understand that this probably was done to reflect the way the platoon at Restrepo felt, I found as a viewer that this was very disengaging.

For example, in one segment the platoon is on a very dangerous operation that goes on for several days. Then suddenly they are walking across snow. Was this part of the same operation? I don’t think so given the scene following the snow scene.

Perhaps as a former newspaper reporter I can’t accept a documentary that doesn’t make the who, why, where, etc. very clear.

I also felt the movie very slow – long stretches of beautiful mountain scenery can be slow going. And, yes, again, I suspect these sections were meant to represent the waiting that the men did between defending off attackers and going on patrol.

While there are actual combat scenes, including wounded and dead, the viewer sees much less than he/she would see watching a fictional war movie.

There are some interviews of the soldiers returned from the deployment. And I was particularly concerned about the soldier who is experiencing severe PTSD symptoms. He tries not to sleep rather than sleep and relive his nightmares.

Neither he nor anyone else mentioned treatment being provided for the experiences this platoon was exposed to.

Here’s a short video from the film:

And check out information about other war documentaries and feature films about war at

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of the novel MRS. LIEUTENANT.

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