Restrepo


Restrepo

A soldier during one of the quieter moments of Restrepo.

(2010) Documentary (National Geographic) Dan Kearney, Brendan O’Byrne, Joshua McDonough, Juan “Doc” Restrepo, Stephen Gillespie, Aron Hijar, Angel Toves, Tanner Sichter, Miguel Cortes, Misha Pemble-Belkin, Sterling Jones, LaMonta Caldwell. Directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

For 15 months in 2007 and 2008, the men of the second platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade were stationed in what CNN called the most dangerous place on Earth – the Korengal Valley, a desolate and arid place in Afghanistan which is apparently riddled with Taliban insurgents. They were accompanied by author Sebastian Junger and veteran combat photographer Tim Hetherington, who captured their ordeal with over 150 hours of footage, augmented with interviews taken after the soldiers had returned home.

We never see the filmmakers nor do we hear their voices. There is no narration, no music. Simply the words of the soldiers themselves, the sound of gunfire and the occasional lowing of cows and shrieking of howler monkeys and that’s enough.

They are surrounded by 10,000 foot mountains in a valley that is like shooting fish in a barrel, as one soldier comments – except that they’re the fish. They live in an outpost that offers barely enough shelter and is named for one of their number who dies early in their deployment – and is seen at the beginning and end of the film clowning with his buddies on the flight to Afghanistan. His inclusion is a poignant reminder of the true cost of war.

The soldiers are led by Captain Dan Kearney, an earnest and committed young man who has weekly meetings with the local elders in an effort to capture the hearts and minds of the community. It is often frustrating for him, wondering if he’s making any headway with them.

War has been described as days of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror and you get that sense with firefights erupting seemingly out of thin air. The tension that the men feel is palpable, especially during an exercise called Operation Rock Avalanche in which the men go from village to village looking for Taliban fighters, one muttering as they enter a bucolic meadow that they are sitting ducks.

The filmmakers wisely avoid showing the bloodier side of the business; they respect the soldiers too much for that. The soldiers that don’t make it through die off-camera, the pain of their passing shown by the reactions of their comrades. The filmmakers also don’t comment on the political nature of the war; they don’t take sides – rather they just present the daily lives of those fighting the conflict which winds up making a more powerful statement than they might have in foisting their opinions on us verbally.

The men of the platoon (and they are all men) are not adrenaline junkies or hotheads as sometimes soldiers are depicted to be; they are thoughtful and responsible, doing a job that is nearly impossible (in fact, the U.S. pulled out its troops from the area in April 2010). If these are the young people serving our country, then we should be doubly proud of them and the tragedy of losing such people is even more poignant.

It is also necessary to report that co-director Hetherington passed away earlier this year in Libya when the unit he was covering came under fire. It seems that the nature of war is to wipe out the resources of good men and women who deserve a long, productive life, a life taken away from them – and from us as well.

WHY RENT THIS: A harrowing and gritty look at the sacrifices our men and women in the armed forces make.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too intense for some.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is what you’d expect from soldiers under fire, and there is some wartime violence depicted as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Junger wrote ”The Perfect Storm” which was later turned into a movie with George Clooney.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are updates on the soldiers written by the men themselves. There are also some promos on various veteran assistance programs.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.4M on an unreported production budget; my guess is that the movie broke even or maybe even made a little money.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

New Releases for the Week of July 30, 2010


Dinner For Schmucks

Steve Carell is no dummy.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS

(Columbia) Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zack Galifianakis, Jermaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, Lucy Punch, Bruce Greenwood, Jeff Dunham, Rick Overton. Directed by Jay Roach

An ambitious young executive finally seems to be getting to where he wants to be. He’s got a great girlfriend and he’s on the verge of getting that promotion he’s worked so hard for. All that he needs to do to get it is attend a dinner that his boss is giving. The catch is that he and all the other young execs who are attending must bring a guest, but not just any guest – the strangest, weirdest, most eccentric person they can find. The one whose guest is the most whacko wins. Of course, this being a Jay Roach (Austin Powers) comedy, nothing proceeds according to plan.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language)

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

(Warner Brothers) James Marsden, Nick Nolte, Christina Applegate, Bette Midler. The struggle between cats and dogs for control of their humans has been eternal and at times, vicious but now it’s going to be put on hold. A rogue ex-agent of MEOWS, the secret organization of cats that uses high-tech means to keep the dogs at bay, threatens to overthrow both agencies and take over the world. To protect themselves and their humans, cats and dogs are going to have to learn to work together, or the world will become one big litter box. Yes, it’s a kid’s movie.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Rating: PG (for animal action and humor)

Charlie St. Cloud

(Universal) Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta. A young man with a bright future sees his world ripped apart when a tragic accident takes one of the most precious things of his life away from him. Existing in a curious half-life, he gives up all his dreams to try and make sense of things. When a high school classmate returns home, he falls in love and soon must choose between that love and the only thing connecting him to what he has lost.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene and some sensuality)

Restrepo

(National Geographic) Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger. Two respected journalists are embedded with the Second Platoon, Battle Company of the 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) stationed at Restrepo in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, considered by many to be the most dangerous posting in the military. The two spent a year with the soldiers, sharing in their camaraderie, duties and danger. It is an intimate look at service in harm’s way that no other documentary has ever captured so fully. The movie won the Grand Jury Prize for a Documentary at the most recent Sundance Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language throughout including some descriptions of violence)

Winter’s Bone

(Roadside Attractions) Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Kevin Breznaha. This film came out of Sundance as one of the most talked-about indie films of the year. A young Ozark girl, who has already set her dreams aside to care for her family, must now find her absent father or risk losing her home. In order to do that she must take on the tight-lipped and often violent mountain folk who work in the illegal drug trade. I saw this movie at the Florida Film Festival and was blown away – it still remains the best movie I’ve seen this year.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for some drug material, language and violent content)

The Hunting Party


Gere and Howard should have rented from Hertz instead.

Gere and Howard should have rented from Hertz instead.

(Weinstein) Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg, James Brolin, Diane Kruger, Joy Bryant, Ljubomir Kerekes, Kristina Krepela. Directed by Richard Shepard.

There is a certain cache about being a war correspondent. The image of them is being adrenaline junkie thrill-seeking hard-drinking cynics have been perpetuated by the movies and to a large extent, by the media itself. However, what you don’t see on the other side of the camera is only half the story, and not the better half.

Simon Hunt (Gere) is a network reporter who in his life has moved from one war zone to the next, accompanied by his faithful cameraman Duck (Howard). When they reach Bosnia, the atrocities they have been inured to in other conflicts seem to hit home a little bit more, particularly for Simon. After a massacre in a small town perpetrated by a Serbian general nicknamed The Fox (Kerekes), Hunt has a full-on on-air meltdown, leading to his being fired and disgraced.

The intervening years are not kind to Hunt. He goes from one correspondence job to another, each at progressively smaller, less important agencies until he disappears off the radar completely. He exists mainly as a cautionary tale told in journalism schools. For Duck, however, his fortunes improve dramatically. He is promoted and works in a cushy network environment, the top of the food chain for network news cameramen. The deprivations of war are long behind him, almost as if they happened to a different man. He’s even got a sexy girlfriend (Bryant) waiting for him in Greece for a decadent, hedonistic vacation.

First, however he must return to Bosnia to celebrate the fifth year since the end of the civil war there. Network anchor Franklin Harris (Brolin) is doing a report from there to mark the occasion, and Duck is as always behind the camera. Along for the ride is rookie reporter Benjamin Strauss (Eisenberg) who is mainly there because his father is an executive vice-president at the network.

The last person Duck is literally expecting to see is Simon, but there he is. Furthermore, he has a major scoop, a game changer – one that will admit him back into the limelight. However, it is a difficult and dangerous story. The Fox remains at large, one of the war criminals not yet apprehended by the United Nations. Simon claims to know the location of the Fox and thinks he can get an interview. Duck is a bit uncertain but the prospect of the kind of story that would be a career highlight is too much to pass up. Strauss, eager to prove himself, tags along much to the disgust of Simon.

The danger lies in that the Fox is a national hero to the Serbs, and is well protected by maniacal bodyguards and fanatical villagers. The trio must get past U.N. bureaucrats, height-challenged black marketers, homicidal waiters and their own mutual mistrust – and once they find their target, what is Simon really after?

Loosely – verrrrrrrrrrrrry loosely – based on actual events (the reporters involved in the true life story are briefly viewed in a barroom scene), there is a feeling that this is a bit too Hollywood, a bit too cliché to be true. While the real reporters were print journalists (and included Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and Scott Anderson who penned the Esquire article that inspired the screenwriters), this is meant to be…well, I’m not sure. Partially it’s an indictment of the reluctance of the authorities in the Bosnian region to bring war criminals to justice, but also it seems to be a potshot at the media as well.

The problem here is that the media seems to be more a caricature of our existing preconceptions of who reports the news rather than actual characters. Having worked in the print journalism field and having known more than a few reporters in my time, I can safely say that not every reporter is a hard-drinking cynical Type-A personality as we’ve seen in movies like The Year of Living Dangerously. While the explanation for Simon’s meltdown does humanize him somewhat, you can be quite sure that no news reporter is going to put their cameraman into the line of fire as a joke.

That said, there are some nice performances here. Howard has become in a very short time one of the more reliable actors in Hollywood. Going back to Crash I can’t think of a single lackluster performance the man has given (although to be honest I haven’t seen The Fighter yet). Gere does his best with a severely flawed character, and Eisenberg does his best Michael Cera impression, as always.

Definitely, don’t look on this as an accurate representation of news reporting. About two-thirds of the way through the movie, the film takes a left turn when we find out what Simon’s real mission is and quite frankly, it doesn’t jive with the rest of the film. I think it would have worked a hell of a lot better if they had been seeking an interview with The Fox all along. However, they misfire with a truly awful ending that in an attempt to be satisfying ends up being the complete opposite.

There are some good things about the movie. It is beautifully shot and the subject matter would have been interesting if handled correctly. I can marginally recommend it based on that and the performances. However, be warned that this is a seriously flawed movie – and take it with a grain of salt, or better still a whole shaker of the stuff.

WHY RENT THIS: Howard performs nicely and the European locations are authentic and beautiful. The premise is at least interesting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A truly awful ending torpedoes the interesting premise, as does their cliché characterization of the entire television journalism field.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly disturbing shots of war atrocities and a goodly amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The movie was mostly filmed in Croatia.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: 9