The war photographer Tim Hetherington, right, spent 14 months with a platoon of United States soldiers in the Korangal Valley of Afghanistan. He, along with Sebastian Junger, left, made a documentary about the experience called “Restrepo.”
It avoids the conventions of documentary film: there is no back story, no drive-by’s with experts for context, no underlying ideology or obvious message. The viewer is dropped into war, with a hard jolt, and resides, along with 15 soldiers from Second Platoon of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, in a remote and raw outpost called Restrepo, so named after one member of the platoon who is killed early in their rotation. In practical terms the soldiers of Second Platoon hump up a mountain with lots of bullets and some shovels and dig in.
I’m in complete awe of these soldiers, it’s an extraordinary achievement and it shows tremendous bravery and commitment.
It’s clear watching the film that Mr. Junger and Mr. Hetherington achieved extraordinary intimacy with their subjects over time. There are noncombat moments in the film that are very much part of the military life: the men wrestle one another and in one particularly vivid scene they crank the song “Touch Me” and gang pile on one another as the lyrics “I want to feel your body” pour out of the speakers. It’s less homoerotic than a clear antidote to the physical isolation of their posting, according to the filmmakers.