Monday, August 16, 2010

Restrepo (2010, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger)

It’s a challenge for me to review a movie like Restrepo. It’s not that I think that it’s a bad movie, or even a particularly odd one. But given the film’s nature- Hetherington and Junger are journalists rather than filmmakers, and the film is almost pure reportage- that there’s almost nothing to report, positive or negative, as regards the cinematic merits of Restrepo. In other words, if you’re down with what Hetherington and Junger are doing, you’ll be down with the movie.

For me, it was kind of a wash- an admirable wash to be sure, but a wash all the same. Sure, I can appreciate the difficulty incurred by the directors in making Restrepo, being embedded for the better part of a year with soldiers in Afghanistan’s most dangerous war zone. And Lord knows I have nothing but admiration for the soldiers stationed there, risking their lives against a largely unseen enemy in an area where even the most sympathetic locals aren’t eager to have their home turned into a battleground.

But although the film does provide some vivid illustrations of what’s happening in the war in Afghanistan, I was left fairly cold by Restrepo. Part of the problem is that I’m generally cold on old-fashioned Pennebaker-style “direct cinema”, but when I think of great documentaries, I expect a little more from the filmmakers to be in the right place at the right time, camera in hand. In other words, it’s not enough to show me something. The directors must assemble their footage into something that expresses a film that stirs the mind, instead of simply trying to wow us with the footage itself.

Now, I’m not asking all documentarians to be Michael Moore (heaven forbid). But while in journalism the story itself is of paramount of importance, the most important aspect of making a film is assembling the story in a way that accentuates the themes and ideas contained therein. The biggest flaw of Restrepo is that it’s so short on actual ideas. In other words, Hetherington and Junger just don’t have a whole lot to say. And while some of the footage is indeed impressive, that’s just not enough to turn Restrepo into the great definitive document of Afghanistan that its supports insist it is.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

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