Restrepo is a courageous film, there’s no denying that. Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger have certainly proven themselves in the bravery department. Spending a year with a platoon in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan for Vanity Fair is no easy task. And some of the footage captured here is truly great. For some parts, Junger and Hetherington are literally right next to our troops as they’re taking fire from insurgents. But just because they’ve been able to capture compelling footage, does it necessarily mean we’re going to get an effective and moving film? In Restrepo‘s case, the answer is sadly no.
As mentioned above, Restrepo is a documentary that follows American troops who are stationed in one of the deadliest valleys in Afghanistan, the Korangal Valley. When released, it was met with near universal praise and the film has been bestowed with many awards and nominations. Perhaps though, it’s a tad bit overrated.
Mixed in with the harrowing war footage captured here, is interviews with the various soldiers who were fighting in the Korangal Valley during that time. While the interviews do give the film a bit more meaning, the film jumps and cuts around so often that during the field footage, it is sometimes tough to tell who is who, and therefore the interviews become less significant.
It’s hard to correlate between the soldiers in the interviews and the ones on the battlefield at times. They’re the same ones, it’s just it’s hard to tell who is who once we see them in the field. This isn’t always the case, but it does happen a fair bit and because of this, the film loses a lot of its emotional punch. It’s also pretty unclear for the most part what exactly is going on during the field footage. Mission objectives become unclear and you’re never really sure what the soldiers are trying to accomplish. Once again, diminishing from the film’s emotional pull.
This is partly because while Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger may know how to capture great footage, they can’t for the life of them put it together in a movie. The footage is understandably chaotic and not smooth and this translates into the film, giving it a very choppy feeling. At times it feels like nothing more than a collection of clips. It’s jittery and due to the lack of flow and continuity, it rarely pulls you in. There isn’t really a story arc and events feel like they’re loosely connected at best.
If you’re looking for an action packed war movie, Restrepo won’t please you in that regard either. A lot of the footage is just of soldiers hanging out and chilling, punctuated here and there with some fighting. When it happens it’s entertaining, but when we’re just watching a bunch of guys hanging out or waiting for something to happen, it’s considerably less than exciting. If you’re looking for something that will convey the rush or thrill of war, look elsewhere.
That being said, there is some good here. As I said before, some of the footage captured is pretty neat and the interviews are revealing and interesting. It gives us a fine look at what being a soldier is like, but it’s just hard to be riveted or immersed by any of it. The whole thing is very matter of fact. The film doesn’t really say much, it just observes, no commentary from the filmmakers, no narrator, nothing. It’s an impressive piece of journalism but it’s just not a great movie.
In the end, the film provides some raw and riveting footage and a couple touching interviews but overall, as a film, it just feels incomplete. It didn’t seem to have the same effect on me that it did on other people and I just couldn’t help but to walk away feeling very unsatisfied.
When it comes to the Blu-Ray itself, things aren’t much better. Special features include deleted scenes, extended interviews, an update on the soldiers from the platoon, a photo gallery and a PSA from IAVA, Operation Homefront and Taps.
Aside from the update on the soldiers and the extended interviews, nothing else is really worth watching. It’s a shame they didn’t pack on more special features because I think this is a film that really could have benefited from some more in-depth features. A commentary, behind the scenes feature, anything really would have been appreciated.
When it comes to audio/video, you’re clearly not going to get Avatar quality here but for the nature of the footage, it isn’t bad. Of course the interviews are more polished but the field footage isn’t awful.
Video is a bit grainy at points, which is to be expected and of course scenes with insufficient lighting like nighttime scenes have a bit of a murky look to them. Audio also suffers a bit when we’re watching the field footage. Dialogue isn’t always crystal clear and depending on what we’re seeing, audio can be hit or miss. That being said, the interviews are all fine and I have no complaints with them. Like I said before, this is guerilla filmmaking, so you can’t expect top notch quality, and it’s far from terrible, it’s just not on the level that you’re used to seeing.
So where does this leave us? Honestly, I know this film was praised by just about everyone, and I tried to give it a chance, I watched it three times but I just couldn’t get into it. It’s not an awful film, I just think it was very overrated. Perhaps you’ll disagree but that’s how I feel. At this stage, I can’t recommend a purchase, if you’re curious give it a rent but personally, I couldn’t justify purchasing this film.
Restrepo is too choppy and not well put together and it feels like a collection of clips as there is no flow or continuity.