Restrepo is an example of photojournalism at its finest. The film chronicles the grueling 15-month deployment in Afghanistan of about a dozen U.S. soldiers of the Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade. Not only were these men on the frontline of this war, they were stationed in the Korengal Valley, a place so remote, mountainous and craggy that it serves as a constant reminder that there is no such thing as a straight line in nature.
It's the perfect setting for the sort of one-man guerrilla operations the Taliban has waged against American troops. During the period the men were stationed there (2007-2008), the Korengal Valley, located near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, was dubbed by CNN as the "most dangerous place on earth" for the amount of ordnance fired and deaths counted as the soldiers fought ridge by ridge for control of the valley.
Journalists Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, originally reporting for Vanity Fair and ABC News, have no ostensible mission but to report on the soldiers. They offer no commentary and are a rarely felt presence. The footage from the Korengal Valley is interspersed with more conventional and reflective interviews conducted with the men while deployed at their home base in Italy.
It's during these one-on-one interviews that we learn more about the individuals, their frustrations, grief and pride. One man, whose stark contradictions make him seem almost like a character in a Sam Fuller war movie, was raised by a "hippie mom" who didn't allow him to play with guns. Another who talks of the adrenaline high he gets from combat could be a character out of The Hurt Locker.
Others are extremely eloquent and forthcoming, but never discussed are the politics of their mission. Still, the images make their own statements, much like those first images of Walter Cronkite and other reporters in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam, visually demonstrating that the war was unwinnable in the manner in which we were waging it. Indeed, the Korengal Valley has proved so intractable that the U.S. command has pulled most troops out of the area at this point in the war.
Restrepo, whose title is the moniker of a valley outpost named in memory of one of the first platoon members killed, is a lasting portrait of all soldiers who willingly helicopter into the "most dangerous place on earth."