« The Zook Lobby and Am… | Home | On V in Other Places … »

Hey On V, Get Off Your Arses and Review Restrepo

(Heads up: On Violence switched servers this week, and our site is still acting a little buggy, specifically in the comments section. Please be patient with us.)

The most common question On Violence has received in the last six months is, “Why haven’t you guys reviewed the film Restrepo?” Or its sibling question, “What did you think of Restrepo?” Well, we can’t avoid the topic any longer.

Last year we had an astoundingly informative series of posts on the 2010 Academy Awards, discussing the four Best Picture nominees that dealt with war and violence. Though some of the films this year are violent (Winter’s Bone, True Grit) or violent-lite (Black Swan? The Fighter? 127 Hours?), none are about violence per se.

Ah, but there is a documentary about war: Restrepo, the Best-Documentary-nominated film by Sebastian Junger/Tim Hetherington about one platoon’s deployment in the Korengal valley. We have to write about it, right?

Maybe. The problem is that I, Michael C, was there. Not Afghanistan, but literally at OP Restrepo during the tour featured in Restrepo. I had some pre-viewing reservations. I feared it would dwell too much on the combat, but Restrepo did a pretty good job capturing what it feels like to be deployed for a year. The ratio of combat to boredom was realistic.

Still, I hesitate to write about Restrepo because criticizing it feels like criticizing myself, if that makes sense. My men who saw Restrepo loved it. If I didn’t, would something be wrong with me? Also, even if I did enjoy it, could I put out an honest review? Could I let Eric C put out an honest review? Eric C’s critique of war memoir criticism (you have to criticize real people) is tripled when they are people you know and served with.

As a result, we held off on publishing much about the film.

In full disclosure, I also personally avoided the film. I didn’t want to go back to OP Restrepo. In another way, I didn’t want my memories polluted by Restrepo. (If that seems like a cop out, it isn't the first time. I have the book Victory Point by Ed Darack that I very much want to review. Even the fact that Victory Point takes place in Konar province, and around the Korengal valley, makes it feel too close for comfort. If that doesn't make sense, I agree.)

Eric C will handle the rest of this week, so I will provide my one comment about the film: I wanted more “The Hell Divers” Fourth Platoon, Destined Company, possibly the greatest, most competent Army unit ever to serve in the US Army, nee military, nee armies around the world and for all of time. Restrepo mentions our trucks once; I don’t think our vehicles ever made it on camera. You can, though, hear our machine guns firing in several scenes. OP Restrepo could not have been built except for the heroic efforts of Fourth Platoon. In another example, the IED event that opens the film, our trucks towed that truck to the KOP. I understand why the directors left it out, that doesn’t mean I don’t disagree.

So what’s up for the rest of the week?

On Wednesday, Eric C shares some fantastic passages from Sebastian Junger’s War.
On Thursday, he wonders why war memoirs rock so hard.
On Friday, Eric C recommends War.
Finally, a week from today, Eric C tackles Restrepo, documentaries and context.

ten comments

Heads up people, comments are a little buggy. We switched servers this week, so if anything is off, that’s why.

It appears fixed bleep bloop.

I’ll be looking forward to the week’s posts.


I understand why you are leaving the review to Eric but I am disappointed. I just saw the film last night. I want to hear from you unless its because you are still active duty and therefore you can’t blog. My friend who was in Vietnam loved the film and noted that the relevant company killed more Taliban than most other companies combined or something like that. It’s odd. The film gave me a different sense. It was apparent that the COIN “hearts and minds” was pretty much a joke in a region infested by Taliban and therefore largely viewed as a joke among the soldiers who were depicted in this film.

It also was apparent that the commanders who offered the village elders new roads and so-called progress where barking down the wrong tree; the population doesn’t particularly want roads connecting them to the central government. If there were any non Taliban in that village before we arrived (and that doesn’t seem likely), none remained after we accidentally wounded some of the their women and children. I find the cow incident too funny to add but that was viewed by the villagers as pretty offensive too. From an anthropological perspective, the thing to do was probably to call in the Shura while the cow was caught up in the c. wire not after it was eaten. On the other hand, these guys really really needed a good meal.

Maybe I’m wrong about all this. Michael? You would know. It is suggested in the interviews that none of the soldiers who survived that mission or, at least, the ones interviewed, are living without nightmares and flashbacks and other signs of trauma.

“Never forget,” cops used to say about 9/11. It’s unfortunate these soldiers will never be able to forget the deaths of their comrades in Afghanistan and the killing that took place there.

Eric, I look forward to your review.

Yeah I really just don’t feel comfortable commenting on that valley and the tactics we employed. Its not because I am active duty, it just feels like Monday Morning quarterbacking people I know.

@ Jaylo – I think calling a Shura for the cow while it was caught would defeat the purpose. The soldiers shot the animal because it was suffering. Waiting would have tortured the poor thing more and subjected the soldiers of hours of listening to a suffering cow. I don’t think there was any easy solution to that situation.

As for the offer of new roads, the local people seemed indifferent because they had been previously promised these things by another commander who, if they were not growing to trust, at least growing to understand. They were then presented with a new commander and new promises and problems without seemingly any of the promises fulfilled.

I should clarify something: I’m not writing a review of Restrepo, more critiquing an aspect of its medium.

We just don’t feel comfortable discussing people and groups we know. It’s unfortunate, but the way it is.

I am reviewing Junger’s “War” though, but again I don’t discuss people, tactics or COIN.

Matty good point. I had recently reread Tim O’Brien’s “War Story” narrative that included the scene with the Water Buffalo and somehow the suffering of that poor cow slipped my mind. I promise I don’t believe in torturing animals or people!

Eric and Michael. Your view is ethically- morally right on. I guess it’s that part of me that always wants to know what happened behind the “49” (police official incident report) or behind the official NYT’s version, something that you correctly point out can’t be ethically done in a case like this in an open forum.

Jaylo, I think you nail the problem on the head. I mean, sometimes sources want names changed or redacted, or tell you things off the record. I think this is the case with Restrepo, for us.