From The War Tapes to Generation Kill, the moving image has tried to convey the current U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The difference between those fiction and non-fiction accounts is that they didn’t spend fifteen months shooting their productions in hostile territory.
Tim Herthington and Sebastian Junger followed the Second Platoon Battle Company as they fought their way through the mountainous terrain of the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. In honor of one of their dead, they name their new outpost “Restrepo.” The guys spend most of their time waiting for gunfire and when it does, they can have up to 7 firefights in one day. Apache helicopter and A-10 Warthogs bomb the surround hillsides, but not everyone killed or wounded are “the enemy.”
Gone are the overwrought dramatics of other war films, but the quiet boredom of infantry life, punctuated by intermittent gunfights. The guys go on patrol, shoot things, get shot at, and dig fortifications. You know the men have been battle-hardened when you literally jump in your seat with sudden gunfire and explosions. Though various personnel will talk with the local elders about bringing money and jobs to the area, there doesn’t seem to be a real objective. There’s no specific goal other than to kill the other guy before he kills you.
The film is most depressing when you engage that question: Why the hell are we over there? Every time I saw a helicopter or machine gun firing I was thinking of how much money was being thrown at the conflict – and for what?
The film doesn’t confront this issue, but the absurdity is found in the unstated.