San Francisco Chronicle
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 11, 2014
Sebastian Junger's "Korengal" is a kind of sequel to 2010's "Restrepo," but also stands on its own as an intense and affecting report on the experiences of U.S. troops in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.
For the earlier film, Junger and co-director Tim Hetherington spent a year embedded with members of the Second Platoon of the 503rd Infantry Regiment in the Korengal Valley, which has been nicknamed the "Valley of Death." The new film is structured differently, but both are all about the men's experiences, leaving aside the politics or morality of the fighting.
Junger uses some of the footage shot during the filmmakers' time in Afghanistan, detailing the troops' hardships and following them on nerve-wracking patrols and firefights. For "Korengal," he's added recent interviews with soldiers who appeared in "Restrepo," reflecting on their experiences. (Junger worked alone on "Korengal"; photojournalist Hetherington was killed while covering the 2011 civil war in Libya.)
Because of its emphasis on the men looking back, "Korengal" has a bit less of a sense of immediacy than its predecessor and a more contemplative air. Whatever he may feel about the war, Junger conveys a deep empathy with the young U.S. fighters and their leaders as they risk everything to provide protection and aid to locals, even though some among them may be cooperating with the Taliban.
The men are perfectly aware of many of the ironies of their situation — one of the simpler being that most of them expected to be fighting in a desert, but in fact the Korengal Valley is a handsome, tree-filled mountain area reminiscent of Colorado. One soldier opines that under different circumstance it would make a fine ski resort.
Opens Friday at Mililani 14
Some of the men are surprisingly frank about the bloodlust combat can inspire — they admit to getting a rush out of shooting at the enemy. The stress of their situation also leads to some pretty rough horseplay during off hours. Perhaps the keenest paradox is that their harrowing experiences of violence and fear in Korengal produce a potent sense of camaraderie. The men testify they may never have another relationship as intense as they had with their combat buddies, and their fervent descriptions of this esprit are among the movie's most forceful moments.
Junger isn't trying to grasp the big picture. The film is a tribute to the courage, tenacity and sorrow of the men with their boots on the ground in a place very far away.
|MEET THE SOLDIERS
Friday's 8:05 p.m. screening at Mililani 14 will be followed by a Q&A with U.S. Army soldiers who fought in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, including Matt Roberts and Richard Lindley, who were assigned to Observation Post Restrepo during the documentary filming, and Mario Romero and Dustin Marra.