Restrepo - TV Review

'a nature documentary where nature has been scorched by fierce fighting'

In terms of initial praise for Restrepo, it's worth noting that the film goes further behind enemy lines than we've ever been before. The footage is both dirty and kinetic but seems completely unfiltered and is, therefore, at times, absolutely gut-wrenching. The portrayal of US soldiers deep within Taliban territory is both terrifying, humanised and troubling and like no film ever seen before, it presents all of the above without flinching.

That the film does all of this whilst producing some stunning camera work and photography is testament to directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger who capture the beauty of the scenery initially but juxtapose this with the ground-level confusion and dust-scattering battles later on. The film looks fantastic: a nature documentary where nature has been scorched by the fierce fighting between the US forces and Afghan resistance.

A documentary though needs to tell some sort of story and the problem with Restrepo is that it is just too unfocused and unfettered; Hetherington and Junger don't seem to have an agenda (which is praiseworthy) but this in turn hampers them in producing something narratively satisfying. Not until the halfway point, where the soldiers we follow are forced to carry out a large offensive, do they seem to settle on what the 'story' is and the proceeding elements seem very anecdotal in comparison.

That said, the footage they capture is incredibly interesting and multiple themes are touched on, if not commented on. The hardships of life in Afghanistan really hit home through Hetherington and Junger's lens and a scene during the aforementioned battle when one of the marines is sadly killed is amongst one of the most difficult things I have ever watched on film. Difficult though it is, it is entirely necessary, if only to show the kind of life the soldiers have to live behind the lines.

Morbidly engrossing and deeply revelatory, it's just a shame the directors couldn't have settled on a narrative arch sooner.

Restrepo was showing on National Geographic and is now available to rent or buy on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK.

Look further...

'If you are to see one documentary this year, please let it be Restrepo' - Bitchin' Film Reviews, 4/5