LA Times Reviews Restrepo

July 14th, 2010

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Movies: Past, present and future

Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'Restrepo'

June 30, 2010 | 1:53 pm


Memo to all the fine-art film fans out there who have been resisting movies about Middle East war zones — yes, you “Hurt Locker” rejectors, I mean you. Please don’t make the same mistake and overlook “Restrepo” and watch it get an Oscar nomination without you.

This excellent documentary chronicling a single U.S. platoon on deployment in Afghanistan in 2007-2008 is as insightful as it is visceral, and it could not be more timely given the contretemps over Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's harsh criticisms of the Obama administration’s Afghan ministrations and the general’s subsequent dismissal by the commander in chief.

Instead, “Restrepo” comes as something of a relief, told as it is from the point of view of the soldiers on the ground. Filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger (best known as the author of “The Perfect Storm”), both veterans of covering other wars and working for Vanity Fair and ABC News for this one, worked side by side with the troops as they fought, in all spending five months in the deadly Korengal Valley over the course of the deployment, and the result is true cinema verite, sometimes a little too verite for comfort.

But ultimately the power of “Restrepo” comes from its namesake, Juan S. Restrepo, an Army private with swagger, shades and an infectious smile, mugging for the camera in the early scenes of the documentary. Restrepo is also the desolate outpost in Korengal Valley named after him. He was 20 when he was killed in a firefight not long after his company arrived in the summer of 2007, and the others did not want to forget. We should not either.

— Betsy Sharkey, Times film critic

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