In 2007, journalist Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington climbed aboard a military helicopter headed to Afghanistan’s remote Korengal Valley to report on frontline life. Over the next 15 months, they returned 10 times to the distant Army outpost, getting an unparalleled glimpse of the mix of boredom, fear, and adrenaline that made up the soldiers’ lives.
The result is Restrepo, a harrowing documentary that tracks the deployment of a scrappy 15-man platoon from the 173rd Airborne through its life cycle, from naive bloodlust to fatigue and disillusionment. The filmmakers avert their gazes from the worst violence—such as when a soldier is shot in the head. The faces of the survivors are perhaps more disturbing. In introspective interviews conducted after the deployment is over, the symptoms of PTSD begin to emerge.
Restrepo is not intended as an anti-war film; it is singlemindedly faithful to the experiences of the soldiers it portrays. But it’s hard to conceive of a more effective piece of propaganda against sending teenagers into the wilderness to watch one another die. —Jascha Hoffman
South of the Border
Taking a break from Hollywood, Oliver Stone presents a glossy portrait of the Bolivarian revolution that swept South America during the last decade. He schmoozes with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, among others—casting them as champions of the poor who courageously stood up to the United States and the IMF.
South of the Border does give a good sense of our nation’s meddling and its subjects’ humanity. But softball questions (along with a stage-managed scene of Chávez tottering on a kid’s bike in his childhood backyard) make for an uncritical, top-down approach to understanding a populist movement. —Michael Mechanic