Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This week, we're re-publishing some reviews of the films from the post 9-11 environment.

"Where the Road Ends, The Taliban Begins..."

There have been two exceptional documentaries coming out of the Bush War years, No End in Sight, the clinical analysis documenting the rememberances of the caring people who were stymied trying to bring some stability to the Iran conflict, and this, Restrepo, filmed by Tim Harrington and author Sebastian Junger ("The Perfect Storm"), about one year in the life of a troop in the deadliest section of the Afghanistan War, the Korengal Valley.

It's what they call a "killing zone" in war, the lowest spot in a valley surrounded by treacherous hills and mountains that defy any sense of uniqueness, with just enough green-belt to defy easy targetting.  When the soldiers of Battle Company first see it, their response is sickeningly bleak, their brio dissipating in the dust kicked up by the rotors of the Chinook delivering them to the sight.  "This is a shit-hole," says one of the men (boys, really), "And I thought 'I am going to die here.'"

They deploy with such bravado, broken and stripped down in basic training to become efficient weapons of our nation, only to see themselves further broken down by the constant beat-down of war.

And then the casualties come.  First one, and then Juan "Doc" Restrepo, who we meet at the beginning of the film, drunkenly, defiantly flexing his war-attitude on the way to deployment, a demoralizing blow to the Corps, as he was considered the best, most capable of the troop.  "Not this guy.  Not this guy.  Not this guy," mantras one of the soldiers in the post-rotation interviews.  If the Enemy could kill their best, what chance did they have?

To get more of an upper-hand, the soldiers, under the cover of night and snipers, hurriedly build a new operational post on high-ground, an "eagle's nest" with rudimentary protection—shells of dirt, basically—and their most powerful weapons to give them a vantage point, and an advantage to take them out of the bowl of death the original outpost is, strategically.  An Alamo, if you will. In simultaneous respect and defiance, they named the outpost after Restrepo, bringing a sense of permanence to his sacrifice, his first memorial, which is described as an up-raised middle digit to the unseen forces trying to kill them.

The shots are extreme hand-held moving with the nervous panic of war and long, carefully composed telephoto shots of the countryside, the plumes of explosions, while, in a reminder of where it all stands in The Scheme of Things, predator-birds glide through the shots.  Ever want to see what it's like to be inside an armored vehicle when it's up-ended by an IED?  It's here.  The language is raw as are the emotions, the cinematography iffy, often filmed in low-light conditions that defy clarity.  But, this is a necessary document of the Armed Forces in Afghanistan, showing how hope is also a casualty of war, and the evidence of it are in the haunted, even dead, eyes of the men in post-deployment interviews.  One can't look into them, without thinking that governments should be a sanctified avoid such situations in the future.

In The Big Red One, Samuel Fuller's end statement was that the only victory in war was surviving it. True enough, simple as that is. But, it goes deeper than that, and is more complex. For war does more than kill the living, it also kills the future of the survivors, the wounds are internal, festering, healing far too slowly, leaving them—if total victory is not achieved—with the sense of no accomplishment, despite throwing their all, their "last full measure" into the blades of the abattoir.

Restrepo is often difficult to watch, but as an unvarnished, declassified document in the on-going revelation of the effect of war on men (and women), it is the kind of tough love it takes to quell the savage beast.

Restrepo is a Matinee.

His buddies and the filmmakers made sure he would not be forgotten.
May none of them be...

Co-director Tim Harrington was killed April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya
covering the uprising there. 

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