While wandering the mean streets of Western Philadelphia, Kung Fu dojo owner and “master” (Will) witnesses a terrible crime. A gang dressed in basketball jerseys brutally mugs an elderly woman in plain sight. Unable to contain himself Will steps in and attempts to use his Kung Fu skills to save the woman, but sadly Will is overwhelmed and killed at gunpoint. Months later Will’s young son Jaden, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Bel-Air, only he’s not alone!!
It’s hard to review a documentary about war because it is hard for a war documentary to be apolitical. Generally a documentary about a war will draw lines in the sand as being pro or against and by doing this generally splits an audience as to whether they liked it or hated it. Restrepo is not that kind of documentary. It is something else altogether. An absolutely gripping story of a group of men sent to serve their country in an area that can lightly be described as hell. Fifteen month deployments in what was called “The Valley of Death.” 50 soldiers were lost in that valley making it one of the single bloodiest areas in all of Afghanistan.
The document starts off with personal video footage from Private First Class Restrepo. A happy moment in the soldiers lives, as they were being deployed to Afghanistan. From here on out it is footage from the valley. Pfc. Restrepo dies early on, when his unit was attacked while on patrol in the Korengal. This led to a push from the group to take a hill top and dig in. As the soldiers put it, they would take fire, fire back, then when it hit a lull they would dig some more. Repeating this pattern until they had built an outpost. They named it after their fallen friend Op (outpost) Restrepo. The majority of the documentary is in this sullen place.
This documentary of what truly is war never seems to have a lull. I was constantly nervous for these men, of which I don’t use the term lightly. I am most likely older then the majority of the guys on screen, but their faces told stories that I would never understand. These men have seen things that is not only hard to comprehend, but I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst of enemies. Yet these are the men guarding us from the hell that has befallen them. Many films move me, but nothing like the footage I watched tonight. This documentary pulls no punches for the viewer. When the soldiers are pushing a new path through the extremely dangerous mission Rock Avalanche, they are ambushed on all sides. Men die and other soldiers crumble in the aftermath, this is heart wrenching footage and it is out there for you to see.
Movies like this do not persuade me as to whether we should be in Afghanistan or Iraq, they simply put the footage in front of me and let me decide for myself. Is war worth it? The Korengal Valley has since been left by American troops. The realization that not only is it an unwinnable area due to its layout, it is unwinnable due to the fact that the people do not want us there. So is the war worth it? I do not think there is a simple answer. I think nine years after deployment with no end in sight is not a comforting thought, but I also think documentaries like this make the ridiculous 24 hour news cycle and its dumbing down of what is happening in our world intolerable. If you were to gather your evidence based only on what Fox or MSNBC were to tell you, you would miss what is truly going on. It is not about right vs left, or what Rush said that morning. Men are going to war in foreign countries and coming back scarred. They are facing horrors under the idea that they are fighting for our freedom, but at what point does it become too much. When do we decide that the damage done is greater then the cost.
I can only hope we are taking care of our troops once they get home. The amount of damage they had to absorb seems intolerable. I can only hope they get the guidance and help they need to begin to cope and process the hell they survived.
So far this easily tops my pick for best documentary in my oscar challenge.
To look into donations for troops, there are many sites, the most trustworthy that I know of is www.uso.org, if you have others, feel free to share them in the comments.