Restrepo and War: Review and Final Thoughts

I realized that I never really gave a review or thoughts on Restrepo; your life must be hanging in perpetual imbalance, for which I apologize. The recent TV premiere of Restrepo gave me another chance to watch the film and muster some thoughts, as well as remind me to spout my opinion here.

I think my review of War, the book version of Restrepo, is as complete as I can make it. The book is intense and has some vivid imagery, most notably the account of the ambush staged by the Taliban on the platoon that Junger was embedded with during Operation Rock Avalanche–which sparked events that caused Sal Giunta to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. I read the book many months before seeing the film, so my anticipation was high to compare my mental imagery to the live-action version. In contrast to the film, the book offers a much deeper look at the events that the soldiers went through–easy for a book to do since it’s relatively unconstrained for time. If I had to sum up a comparison of the book to the film in one sentence, that would be it. Book = great detail; film = abridged narrative.

The greatest thing about the book is that it is 100% unbiased. So unbiased that it actually attracts criticism from those who demand that every form of media present some sort of thesis or persuasion of thought. The film, on the other hand, comes across ever so slightly leaned a little toward the anti-war side; maybe moreso toward a “let’s think about what we really did over there” attitude. That in itself isn’t a bad thing at all (to think about what you did and learn from it). But when applied to military topics, I get a little annoyed because, to me, it implies second-guessing of our military’s actions and the way they went about protecting us and their own. Leave that to the history books, not to current events.

But enough about all of that…
Restrepo is one of the most real/raw/in-depth looks into what frontline soldiers endure that I have ever seen. I thought I had an idea of what Afghanistan is (the conflict, the country, the people)…boy was I wrong! If it weren’t such a war-torn and crazy place, I would probably want to tour their country some day given the scenic mountainscapes and cool treefort-like houses the Afghan people live in! I’d have never known that if I didn’t see Restrepo.

The intense combat action that these soldiers saw on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis is mind-boggling.  The constant state of readiness that they had to maintain cannot be comprehended, but you get a taste of it through the film. While the book gets deep into specific topics, the film gives a slightly better picture of the “big picture.” You see the mountainous terrain that they sleep/live/walk/eat/patrol/fight/exist on in addition to seeing how random the firefights are. As a bonus, you get to see some military hardware in action too (Apaches, various small arms, mortars, A-10’s, and payloads delivered by B-1B’s, to note a few). While the book can describe something into oblivion, seeing it as it really exists definitely has value; whether it’s to verify your mind’s eye calibration or for just pure shock and awe entertainment.

The film is interlaced with intimate interviews of the soldiers in front of a black backdrop; standard interview setting. I feel that it gives too quiet of a “talk time” and introduces a tiny bit of “what the hell were we doing there” feel. Some of the soldiers blatantly express discontent with the US’s involvement in the region while others stand by the mission. It all adds to the tone of the film which, like I said, feels just slightly in the “just what were we really doing there” column.

Overall, the film does the soldiers’ legacy justice. It gives us common Joe’s back here in the comfy stateside a better idea of what they went through–theoretically for us. Check it out, but be sure to also read the book. I hate that old cliche’ of “you have to read the book in addition to watching the movie,” but it applies 100% here.

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