Restrepo is a documentary that chronicles the year that filmmakers and journalists Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger spent embedded with the Second Platoon, a squadron that was besieged while seeking to liberate the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. of the first member of the squadron to die in the curse of the documentary, PFC Juan Restrepo. Korengal Valley, where the film is set, is a Taliban and Al Qaeda stronghold. The film documents the 14-month tour of duty of the platoon including the fierce firefights, rowdy horseplay, reconnaissance and boredom. It also includes close interviews with the members of the Battle Company at the end of the tour, recording their experiences in a bunt and sympathetic way.
Korengal Valley was considered a strategic military position by both the American army and the insurgents. This clear objective led to the many firefights recorded throughout the course of the documentary, including almost daily engagements with the enemy. The Battle Company built an outpost, also known as Restrepo and set out on the delicate mission of fighting the enemy and pacifying the locals. The soldiers, under the direction of Capt. Dan Kearney, hold weekly meetings with the locals as they try to convince them that American presence is their best bet.
In its core themes, Restrepo focuses on the machine of war and the experiences of the different players but avoids the political questions. The underlying theme addresses the absurdity of war as a whole in its overall lofty goals which are not equal to the actual work on the ground. For most soldiers in the platoon, Korengal Valley is their current goal and bigger causes are of no importance. Captain Kearney embodies the ideals of a change in perspective about how to achieve the overall intentions. His actions imply that he his predecessor and the preceding teams mishandled the issues facing Korengal Valley. Instead, Capt. Kearney leads his platoon into expanding the influence of American presence and building a personal connection with the local population. The outpost represents the height of his overall goals and strategy.
One Afghani elder explains that his cow died and he expects to be compensated by the American military. His cow was caught in barbed wire, probably laid out by one side during the war, and had to be killed. While the platoon offers him compensation in the form of food and seeds, he refuses and demands cash. This difference in strategy is clear throughout the pacification process, where the goals and methods used in one group do not work with another.
Private Restrepo, the medic after whom the movie and the outpost are named, is seen in a video taken before he joined the platoon. In the video, the young medic outlines his readiness to go to war and declares his love for life. The short clip seems to embody the sentiments of the other soldiers in the platoon who have to face their fears. The 20-year old is fondly remembered by his colleagues especially due to his hearty nature, guitar lessons and flamenco songs.
The climax of the documentary is a field assignment dubbed Operation Rock Avalanche. The assignment is characterized by heavy firing from both sides, with the platoon coming under attack an average of five times a day. Restrepo does not focus on any side, neither the enemy nor their American targets. Instead, it offers an objective view of the machine of war at its most basic, and the struggles that soldiers have to go through to meet the collective strategic goals.
The war, in particular the experiences of the individuals in the film, showcase the concept of the Afghan invasion as a just war. The Afghanis have been under the burden and insecurity of Taliban rule which includes human rights abuses and violence. To most of the Afghanis featured in the film, the war was unnecessary and American presence does not equal the security and stability they seek. To the American soldiers the war has a reasonable chance of success and was a measure of last resort. The main intention of the war was to dislodge the Taliban and dismantle the Al Qaeda machinery, all qualify as good intentions. At a more fundamental level, the experiences showcased in Restrepo (2010) are those of a group of soldiers that intend to defeat an invisible enemy and ensure the local people are at peace.
Restrepo represents the real traumatic experiences that soldiers go through n the course of the war. During the interviews, some of them breakdown when they have to remember specific events. The traumatic and emotional effect is a sign of the hellish nature of war, and the fact that while the onset and justifications of a war might be reasonable, the people who have to handle the actual work place their lives and sanity at risk. The platoons weekly council meetings best show the difference in perspectives between the two sides. Where they must conduct the meetings as a peace-building measure, they are also conscious of the fact that some of them are likely Taliban or informers. The Afghanis, on the other hand, resent the soldiers and do not necessarily agree with their justifications for the war.