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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF Blu-ray Review: RESTREPO (a year with a U.S. army platoon)



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#1 of 12 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted December 24 2010 - 08:24 AM

http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


 Restrepo (Blu-ray)


There was an initial flurry of news coverage when military operations began in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, but that was over nine years ago. After March 2003, Iraq dominated U.S. news. More recently, domestic issues have moved to the fore. The war in Afghanistan is now reported, if at all, in brief statistics and general assessments.


The two journalists who made Restrepo, Tim Hetheringon and Sebastian Junger, wanted to change that approach. The best explanation of their intentions is provided in a “mission statement” at the film’s website:

 

The war in Afghanistan has become highly politicized, but soldiers rarely take part in that discussion. Our intention was to capture the experience of combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of the soldiers themselves. Their lives were our lives: we did not sit down with their families, we did not interview Afghans, we did not explore geopolitical debates. Soldiers are living and fighting and dying at remote outposts in Afghanistan in conditions that few Americans back home can imagine. Their experiences are important to understand, regardless of one's political beliefs. Beliefs are a way to avoid looking at reality. This is reality. 
 


  Studio: Virgil Films/National Geographic Entertainment

Rated: R

Film Length: 93 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

HD Encoding: 1080i

HD Codec: MPEG-2

Audio: English DD 5.1 (448kp/ps); English DD 2.0 (224kb/ps)

Subtitles: English

MSRP: $34.99

Disc Format: 1 25GB

Package: Keepcase

Theatrical Release Date: June 25, 2010

Blu-ray Release Date: Dec. 7, 2010




The Feature:


The Korengal Valley in Kunar Province in northeastern Afghanistan has proven so hazardous to coalition forces that it is known as “the Valley of Death”. In May 2007, the soldiers of 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne, were assigned to the Korengal. In June, Junger joined them for several weeks. He returned with Hetherington in September. They stayed a year.

 

Although it isn’t specified in the documentary, the Korengal was considered a key area for disrupting enemy supply lines. The challenge for U.S. forces was to control this vast region with fewer than the ideal number of soldiers, because so many military resources were still committed in Iraq. The company commander, Capt. Dan Kearney, adopted a bold strategy. As a sign of defiance to the anti-coalition forces that daily fired on his troops, Capt. Kearney had his men build a new outpost, which they literally dug out of the ground and built from nothing, often working under fire. Capt. Kearney wanted the anti-coalition forces to know that the Americans were there to stay. He described it as giving the finger to the enemy.

 

The men of 2ndPlatoon christened the outpost “O.P. Restrepo” after Sgt. Juan Restrepo, a popular medic who was one of the platoon’s first casualties in the Korengal. Restrepo’s death was, for many of the platoon members, one of their first experiences of losing a company member.

 

The outpost typically held a complement of fifteen soldiers. Restrepo chronicles both its construction and life in the completed outpost. Hetherington and Junger had videocameras running whenever possible. The soldiers appear to have adapted easily to the presence of cameras, probably because Hetherington and Junger were sharing the same hardships and taking the same fire. Shared privation breeds familiarity, and the cameras captured what you would have seen if you’d been standing there – in a facility with no sanitation or running water, fired upon daily, and sufficiently remote that a full-scale attack would have decimated the position long before help could arrive (a fact of which the soldiers were acutely aware).

 

Other locations are also shown. The cameras followed Capt. Kearney to his weekly meetings with local village elders, during which he attempted to obtain their cooperation and address any grievances. These are extraordinary scenes, because (among other things) they demonstrate the degree to which language and culture separate the American troops and the people they are there to assist. The captain was accompanied by a translator, but his struggle to convey nuance and tone are evident as the camera pans over the impassive faces of the elders. In a separate scene, villagers approach the outpost seeking compensation for a cow that became entangled in the surrounding barbed wire and had to be shot. Negotiations proceed through a translator and do not conclude in a resolution. How important was the failure to make a deal? No one can say.

 

In the fall of 2007, the platoon undertook a hazardous mission dubbed “Operation Rock Avalanche”, which involved reconnoitering previously unexplored areas of the Korengal. The journalists accompanied them, and the events of Rock Avalanche serve as a dramatic “third act” to Restrepo. It was a costly operation that took heavy casualties. Presumably because the journalists were unarmed, they were not present for the worst of the fire fights, but they captured some of the aftermath. In real life, sorrow and anguish are often more understated than in the movies, but there is something about seeing the broken body of a real American soldier on the ground, while his comrades fight back tears, that makes for almost unbearable viewing.

 

The footage from the Korengal is intercut with interviews conducted in Italy with Capt. Kearney and members of the platoon in 2008, after their deployment ended. The captain and his soldiers comment on aspects of their experience, narrate some of the episodes captured in the footage, and talk about how their experiences in the Korengal continue to affect them. These are distinct individuals with different personalities and styles of expression, but a common element runs through all these interviews that, at first, I could not identify. But it finally hit me: No matter how emotional or intense these soldiers become, not one of them is trying to sell you on anything.

 

Partisanship of one sort or another has become such a routine element in any discussion of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars that its absence is as noteworthy as complete silence. Over here, everyone who talks about these wars has a position (pro or anti or somewhere in the middle), as well as an objective, whether it’s to win an election, sell a book, bolster ratings, increase views on a website or simply feel “patriotic”. The soldiers who address the camera in Restrepo have no such goals. They’re not trying to convince anyone of anything. They have jobs to do and and a shared sense of obligation to each other, and that’s all. Something about that common attitude lends an authority and a simple eloquence to each and every one of the film’s speakers. Listen, for example, to Specialist Kyle Steiner as he discusses a notion that is commonly thrown around whenever the discussion turns to “supporting the troops”:

 

When civilians and people back home use “bravery”, they think “he’s brave because he did something I wouldn’t do”. We don’t use it, because we do something they wouldn’t do – but we would all do it. I guess you could say the normal person would say it’s going above and beyond the call. Well, that is our call. Why call us brave? It’s our job to be that way. That’s who we are. We’re not doing anything extra, that they seem to think we are. We’re doing what’s asked of us, and we do it well. That’s why we don’t use that word. And I’ve thought about that too. There’s no reason to use it. We’re not brave, it’s just . . . somebody’s gotta do it.

 

When Hetherington and Junger say in Restrepo’s mission statement that “This is reality” , obviously they’re referring to the film’s detailed record of life “on the ground” in Afghanistan. But they’re also referring to the directness with which the soldiers who have to operate the basic nuts-and-bolts machinery of high-level policymaking approach their task. These men have acquired a laser-like clarity that burns away bluster, spin and rhetoric. Years from now, historians will consult Restrepo as essential source material for how the war in Afganistan was actually fought. But it would be a service to men and women like Specialist Steiner if it didn’t take that long for citizens at home to learn about what soldiers are dealing with “over there”.

 

A final note: In April 2010, the U.S. military abandoned its position in the Korengal Valley.

 

 

Video:

 

The image on the Blu-ray varies according to the source material. Some of it was obviously shot on hi-def video, and the advantages are most apparent in shots that reveal the scale of the forbidding landscape. The detail in many of these shots is impressive, considering the circumstances under which they were taken. Other shots at night or in combat conditions are grainy and blurry, as one might expect. Many appear to be from standard definition sources, especially footage that was shot by members of the platoon. Colors are sufficiently well-defined that one can observe the bright shades that Afghan village elders dye their beards, according to local custom.


 

Audio:

 

I was not able to determine how the audio was initially recorded, but it is presented here in Dolby Digital at bitrates comparable to what one would find on DVD. The track is certainly serviceable and intelligible, which is what is required for documentary where the audio is a record of events as they happened, as opposed to a soundtrack constructed in a recording studio. Gunfire ranges from very loud, in enclosed spaces, to hollow and distant, when firing occurs outdoors. Explosions can be extremely loud, when they occur close to the recording equipment. Voices are clear, and English subtitles are available, if needed.

 

 

Special Features:

 

Deleted Scenes (HD) (20:25). Given the fact that Hetherington and Junger spent a year with the platoon, the finished film represents only a fraction of the available footage. These scenes appear to have been selected because they are interesting in their own right, but had no obvious place where they could fit into the finished film. Examples are a ceremony awarding medals; a supply drop from helicopter; and a scene of soldiers checking the hands of locals for residue from gun powder or explosives.

 

Extended Interviews (SD; enhanced for 16:9) (26:13). Additional interviews from the post-deployment sessions in Italy containing reflections on a wide variety of topics.


Sleeping Soldiers (SD; 4:3) (4:36). This is a montage of platoon members sleeping, with combat footage superimposed.

 

Update on the Soldiers. The updates were written by the soldiers themselves and are presented as text. Many have redeployed to Afghanistan.

 

PSAs. Three public service announcements are included, all in standard definition: Operation Home Front (1.78:1, enhanced) (2:12); Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or “IAVA” (1.78:1, non-enhanced) (1:03); and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or “TAPS” (4:3) (8:36).

 

Trailers. Trailers are included for Amreeka (SD; 2.35:1, enhanced); The Way We Get By (SD; 1.78:1, non-enhanced); The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest (HD, 1:78:1); and The Way Back (HD; 1.78:1).

 

 

In Conclusion:

 

Life provided a fitting coda to the film. On November 16, 2010, Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta of the 173rd Airborne became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War for actions performed during Operation Rock Avalanche. Guinta does not appear in the film, because he was not stationed at O.P. Restrepo, but Junger and Hetherington made a short follow-up film, “The Sal Guinta Story”, which is posted at the Restrepo website.

 

The relevant portion of the Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

 

[On October 25, 2007,] Specialist Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta’s body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta’s unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy.

   Sgt. Guinta’s own account is more personal and visceral, but what’s truly striking is his reaction upon learning that he’d been awarded the Medal of Honor. It begins at approximately 11:45, and it’s not what you might expect. It starts with an expletive:

 



 

 

Equipment used for this review:

 

Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player

Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)

Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough

Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier

Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears

Boston Accoustics VR-MC center

SVS SB12-Plus sub


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#2 of 12 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted December 28 2010 - 11:21 AM


  The footage from the Korengal is intercut with interviews conducted in Italy with Capt. Kearney and members of the platoon in 2008, after their deployment ended. The captain and his soldiers comment on aspects of their experience, narrate some of the episodes captured in the footage, and talk about how their experiences in the Korengal continue to affect them. These are distinct individuals with different personalities and styles of expression, but a common element runs through all these interviews that, at first, I could not identify. But it finally hit me: No matter how emotional or intense these soldiers become, not one of them is trying to sell you on anything.

 

Partisanship of one sort or another has become such a routine element in any discussion of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars that its absence is as noteworthy as complete silence. Over here, everyone who talks about these wars has a position (pro or anti or somewhere in the middle), as well as an objective, whether it’s to win an election, sell a book, bolster ratings, increase views on a website or simply feel “patriotic”. The soldiers who address the camera in Restrepo have no such goals. They’re not trying to convince anyone of anything. They have jobs to do and and a shared sense of obligation to each other, and that’s all. Something about that common attitude lends an authority and a simple eloquence to each and every one of the film’s speakers


I didn't pre-order this simply because I was afraid it might be "preachy" (one one side or the other).  I'm glad to know that its not and as such will be ordering it.  As you mention, just about everything said about the the war has a position and it seems its more important to focus on their position than the men and women on the ground.  I think it will be both an eye-opening yet refreshing (and even humbling) experience to see the war from the soldiers perspective.



#3 of 12 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted January 25 2011 - 03:14 PM

Congratulations to Tim Hetheringon and Sebastian Junger on their well-deserved Oscar nomination for Restrepo!


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#4 of 12 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted January 26 2011 - 07:00 AM

I hope I can see some of the other nominees in that category, especially Inside Job. I found Restrepo to be exceedingly dull. Although, it did manage to show how delusionary a commanding officer can be, in order to continue justifying his retarded idea.


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#5 of 12 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted January 28 2011 - 07:30 AM

NPR's Here and Now program ran a story another story on Restrepo today- very interesting. Sound clips were played of the deadly consequences of a fire fight and I admit to weeping in the car from that 10 to 15 second clip. I have added this to my must-own list.


Documentaries are continuing to experience a resurgance in popularity and importance. I am reviewing Waiting for Superman, and with this, Client 9, and a very good documentary on composer Philip Glass that I viewed recently, I feel that documentaries are gaining ground...


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#6 of 12 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted January 29 2011 - 08:46 AM


 I feel that documentaries are gaining ground...

 Thats an interesting point.  I am really looking forward to your review of Waiting For Superman as that is on my short list to watch as soon as it comes out.



#7 of 12 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted February 03 2011 - 04:08 AM

From a NYTimes article today on the documentary Oscar nominees:


In 2007, when the journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington set out to make a documentary following a military unit in Afghanistan, they had no awards aspirations.


“Don’t get hurt, don’t get killed doing this — that was our first order of business,” Mr. Junger said. The documentary, “Restrepo,” about a remote base in the Korangal Valley, led them to embed with the Second Platoon of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team for over a year, and they did get hurt. A Humvee Mr. Junger was in drove over an improvised explosive device, rattling those on board, and he later tore his Achilles’ tendon jumping out of the line of a firefight. Mr. Hetherington broke his leg on a mission and had to walk four hours down a mountain on it, humping his gear, to get back to camp. Their personal ordeals, complete with some level of post-traumatic stress and difficulty returning to civilian life, mirrored those of the soldiers they followed. “Restrepo” won a grand jury prize for best domestic documentary at the Sundance Film Festival last year and went on to play at theaters and on military bases around the country.


Now it is one of the five Oscar documentary hopefuls, in a category that was among the few with major surprises when nominations were announced last week. “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” an early favorite, was left off the list, as was “The Tillman Story,” another harrowing film about Afghanistan; “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” from the Oscar-winner Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”), also got no love. Instead the contenders are mostly smaller films from lesser-known filmmakers: “Waste Land,” about the artist Vik Muniz, set against the backdrop of a massive garbage dump in Rio de Janeiro; “Gasland,” which examines the dangers of natural-gas drilling; and the oddball of the group, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” Banksy’s subversive story of a street artist run amok. The presumed front-runner is “Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson’s well-liked feisty dissection of the economic crisis. But with most of the feature film and acting categories apparently sewn up, thanks to the consensus voting of industry groups, the documentaries are one area where there is still some drama.


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#8 of 12 OFFLINE   JoshB

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Posted February 03 2011 - 04:08 PM

Having been to Iraq twice (not yet to Afghanistan) I can honestly say this is about as close to the real thing as you can get without throwing on 90 lbs. of equipment, sucking up 110 degree days, or being on a 9000 ft. mountain on the other end of the world...I know a few guys who were in this actual unit, and what you see is still sanitized compared to what they go through over there.

It would be nice to see this win on Oscar night...even more fitting is if instead of the filmmakers accepting the award, that they let Juan Restrepo's surviving family be allowed to...


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#9 of 12 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted February 04 2011 - 03:41 AM

Agreed.


And THANK YOU for your service!!!!


Originally Posted by JoshB 

Having been to Iraq twice (not yet to Afghanistan) I can honestly say this is about as close to the real thing as you can get without throwing on 90 lbs. of equipment, sucking up 110 degree days, or being on a 9000 ft. mountain on the other end of the world...I know a few guys who were in this actual unit, and what you see is still sanitized compared to what they go through over there.

It would be nice to see this win on Oscar night...even more fitting is if instead of the filmmakers accepting the award, that they let Juan Restrepo's surviving family be allowed to...




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#10 of 12 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted February 04 2011 - 03:52 AM

Right on!


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#11 of 12 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted February 13 2011 - 01:34 PM

This dropped below $20 for the first time on Amazon.  Its on sale for $17.99


http://www.amazon.co...m/dp/B0042KZJIM



#12 of 12 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted April 21 2011 - 07:07 AM

A tribute to Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya yesterday: Tim Hetherington (1970-2011) - Movies - News - IFC.com


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