Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo takes you into combat in a way few movies have. Over the course of a year, Junger and co-director Tim Hetherington filmed the experiences of 2nd Platoon, B Company, Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. Situated deep in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, once considered the deadliest spot in the world, soldiers and the two directors were fired upon every day. Their mission was to disrupt Taliban activity in the valley, and they did so by building Restrepo, a remote outpost named after a fallen soldier.
Rather than turning the movie into a thrill-a-minute action ride, Junger focuses on everyday life, and the psychological toll combat takes. The soldiers are competent professionals who take their jobs seriously. Some are more candid than others, but the most memorable are the captain who’s responsible for day-to-day missions, and a young soldier who admits his tour left him unable to sleep. The combat scenes are not so much suspenseful as they are chaotic. The camera never gets a good look at the enemy, and it’s never clear how/when someone might die. When the gunfire stops, there are also moments of levity. Soldiers wrestle and joke around – there’s even a point where the men dance to a poppy techno song. But for all their skill and camaraderie, there’s still frustration when dealing with angry locals. More than any news story or magazine article, Junger and Heatherington give a convincing, informative portrait of how soldiers live. Here’s a movie that’ll renew your appreciation for those who serve.
Restrepo screens at 5pm on Friday and 9pm on Sunday. My interview with Sebastian Junger will run on July 9, when the movie opens at E Street.
At Silverdocs, many political documentaries have a consistent political philosophy. They’re uniformly against the status quo, and are deeply skeptical of government and corporations. Sometimes these documentaries are moving because of the human story, as well as the director’s ability to channel frustration (e.g. Presumed Guilty). Other times the documentaries are ordinary in their perspective/criticism, and offer little insight into the subject. Such is the case of Barbershop Punk, which uses the story of a mild-mannered engineer to examine issues of net neutrality. Directors Georgia C. Archer and Kristin Armfield amassed an impressive array of talking heads (Ian Mackaye, Henry Rollins, OK Go’s Damian Kulash), but their commentary amounts to little more than boilerplate anti-corporate rhetoric. Robb Topolski, the engineer in question, is a likable guy with an interesting story, but Archer and Armfield only give him a cursory glance. Instead, they attack a number of hot-button issues, ranging from capitalist greed to freedom of speech. The approach is scattershot, and it seems the directors would rather pick a fight than describe net neutrality in depth. There is little new ground, and earnestness alone cannot save Barbershop Punk from feeling ordinary.
Barbershop Punk is playing on Friday at 8:30pm. With better documentaries featuring musicians and lawyers, I recommend you skip this one.