Maven's Nest

Reel Life: Flick Pix

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

By Nora Lee Mandel

Directed by Sebastian Junger
Produced by Nick Quested and Junger
Released by Saboteur Media
U.S.A. 90 min. Rated R

Journalist Sebastian Junger compiles the outtakes from Restrepo (2010) into a second documentary, in tribute to his co-director the late photographer Tim Hetherington, who died in 2011 covering the civil war in Libya. While the risky patrols and mountainside battle skirmishes, adrenaline rushes overlooking the soaring Korengal Valley in northern Afghanistan are vividly captured, with bullets whizzing, what makes this different from such series as National Geographic’s Eyewitness War and Battleground Afghanistan with their helmet cameras and shot-by-shot military descriptions, Junger and Herrington kept a journalistic perspective when they kept returning during 2007 and 2008. (There’s also some footage shot by Taliban fighters.)

Junger says there is no duplication of footage, including in the reflective interviews with the men of Battle Company 2 of the 503rd Infantry Regiment and the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team three months after their deployment at their base in Italy (and too soon for any real appreciation of the long-lasting impact of the experience on their lives). While much of the insights are the same – the grit and dirt of life in an isolated Forward Operating Base (this one named for a well-liked medic killed in action), the testosterone-inflamed, boredom-reducing, male bonding down time (with “You learn to love your weapon”), the intensity of becoming a band of brothers ready to die for each other (then and anytime after), and bringing in the wounded during fire fights, rather than any abstract patriotism, there is now grudging honesty from the two African-American soldiers on some perception of differences.

As posts like these are now abandoned, with the U.S. scaling back its involvement in Afghanistan, taking on more significance are the extended considerations of their vengeful attitude towards the enemy, albeit with grudging respect for their sniping and climbing skills. The soldiers are envious that the Taliban can fight without their required heavy packs and impressed by their effective transport of military equipment on supply routes through the mountains. But they can’t really tell the Taliban “bad guys” from the villagers caught between the two fighting forces, for whom they have barely disguised cultural condescension, partly due to the native Pashtun outfit they perceive as a dress. Stationed near where the attacks that were portrayed last year in Lone Survivor, the lesson of the potential of sympathetic civilian allies has been lost in discouragement.

May 31, 2014

Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews

Since August 2006, edited versions of many of my reviews of documentaries/indie/foreign films are at Film-Forward; since 2012, festival overviews at FilmFestivalTraveler; and, since 2016, coverage of women-made films at FF2 Media. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.

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