Starring: LaMona Caldwell, Miguel Cortez, Stephen Gillespie
Directed by: Sebastian Junger (“Restrepo”)
In a follow up to his emotionally-raw and visceral 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo,” filmmaker Sebastian Junger brings viewers back to the frontlines of Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in “Korengal,” an equally intense sequel created from leftover footage Junger (and late “Restrepo” co-director Tim Hetherington who died during the Libyan civil war in 2011) captured during their time spent with deployed American servicemen in 2007 and 2008.
What was left on the editing room floor when Junger and Hetherington pieced together “Restrepo” is definitely not extraneous footage that could be forgotten. In “Korengal,” Junger, an American journalist and author, continues his powerful and illuminating one-on-one interviews with soldiers who share their experiences in combat and their personal thoughts about everything including family, friendship and faith. Junger doesn’t toss up too many softball questions, so what soldiers are presented with is an opportunity to speak candidly about the things they have seen on the battlefield and the responsibility they feel they have to their fellow brothers.
It’s obvious each of these soldiers would die to save the life of the man next to him, but to hear it come from the men themselves and hear the authenticity behind their voices is affecting. Also noteworthy are the moments of reflection when some of the men think about what they are doing in such a hellish environment. During one particularly heart-wrenching interview, a soldier questions whether or not killing another human being, even during wartime, is a forgivable act. The excuse that “it’s something [he] had to do,” isn’t sitting well with his conscious anymore. For someone who believes in God, it’s a logical debate that really illustrates how torn some of the men are when put into a life or death situation.
While “Korengal” isn’t as moving as its predecessor (“Restrepo” focused a lot more on a single soldier who was killed in Afghanistan, Juan Restrepo), the realistic firefights, scenes where soldiers are overcome by pure boredom and the insightful thoughts of these men, some who may have over-romanticized the military when they first joined up, it is still a compelling package Junger has put together with thought and focus. It’s probably true that moviegoers who have never served in the military still won’t really understand the sacrifice these men have made nor will they ever feel the same type of loss as someone who witnesses a friend die in battle, but Junger’s attempt to tap into the hearts of these heroes is commendable.