It’s Memorial Day weekend. Seeing Restrepo should be required of every U.S. citizen.
So should taking the immigration test that we require those that want to be citizens pass. An experience doing both will shock you and will — in many cases — demonstrate how little most of us really know.
To start, Restrepo is Juan “Doc” Restrepo. He is dead, killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2007. The documentary Restrepo — presented on Friday by Battelle Film Club —is not about Juan, though you meet him briefly at the beginning of the movie. His comrades in arms named a fortified position in honor of their fallen friend in a region in Afghanistan called the Korengal Valley.
Titled by some as the "Valley of Death," it is considered by many to be the most dangerous place on Earth.
By the way, though it may sound from this introduction that Restrepo takes a political position. It does not. Restrepo is definitely non-political. It simply, and dramatically, shows where we have placed some of our youngest and brightest, and what soldiers in combat really go through on a daily basis.
Cinematographers and directors Tim Hetherington (who recently died in the conflict in Libya) and Sebastian Junger spent 15 months in the Korengal Valley with the men of Battle Company 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
It’s a long name. Boiled down, in 2007 the men battled the Taliban and worked to secure the area for the locals, helping to improve economic and social conditions.
Much of what you learn about the men and the locals they a) try to befriend and b) regularly need to kill, is in what is not said. Hetherington and Junger interview the combatants after their long mission and show you their life during the mission. You get very little that is profound from them until the topic of death and their lost comrades arises.
Up to then, it’s as if they’re on auto-pilot.
Also most fascinating is the interaction of the soldiers with the locals. The team captain meets regularly with local leaders and preaches a new and better life with a good road built to connect the region with the rest of the nation. It — he says — will bring jobs, money and that new, better life.
They nod and smile. No one really asks what they want. And the shadow of the ever dangerous Taliban hangs over the meetings like an unseen and unwanted ghost. They fear our military, but they fear the Taliban more.
That’s intimated but not spoken. And it is what helps make the Oscar-nominated Restrepo — it lost to Inside Job — fascinating and along with real combat scenes, unbelievably intense.
It’s Memorial Day weekend. Those who have not served and who complain about the military, or complain about the wars, owe these young men and women a view of Restrepo. This is a very harsh — but non-political — reminder of what our young men and women go through to defend our freedom.
Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars
Directors: Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Stars: The men of Battle Company 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
Rated R for mature themes, language, death. It shows Friday, May 25 only at the Battelle Auditorium at 8:00 p.m.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.