Review: Restrepo

1 03 2011


Director(s): Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

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

Length: 93 minutes

IMDB Rating: 7.6/10

Summery: RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.

After the war in Iraq, the last thing people want to know about, or even care about is the War in Afghanistan. Still, it’s going on as we speak, and our men and women are dying there. Restrepo provides an interesting prospective not only on the War in Afghanistan, but also war in general, and the people who fight in them. In this sense, the documentary actually does do a good job giving you a glimpse into these prospectives. But the documentary is also a double-edged sword that is done in such a way where I personally found it an OK film with great moments.

The most interesting parts of the documentary for me were simply the interactions of the men themselves. A small platoon charged with holding a valley, there lives mostly consist of simply biding time until they’re shot at. They dance, they wrestle, they sing, but mostly they just make conversation. In one scene a soldier is setting up a grenade launcher while holding a simple conversation that goes something like this:

SOLDIER: Your family has a ranch?

SOLDIER: Of course.

SOLDIER: Like cows and pigs and chickens and horses ranch?


SOLDIER: Like what kind of ranch then?

SOLDIER: It’s like a, a ranch just with like land, you know, with gates and stuff and trucks and what-not, you know.

It’s simple, but it also speaks volumes for the experience they’re going through. They’re in a remote valley in Afghanistan. There’s no TV, no internet, no movies. There’s mostly just each other.

A Simple Firefight

Also interesting are the platoon’s relationship with the local people. The locals are simple farmers working harsh land living in an isolated culture based on tradition and religion. Understandably, they dislike the soldiers and their presence in their valley immensely. The leader of the platoon at one point is shown having to convince the tribe leaders that he won’t run the operation like the previous platoon leader, who apparently ticked them off. That’s at the beginning of the 15-month deployment. Relations soon deteriorate in the months following from a cow being killed by the platoon, civilians are inadvertently killed in a firefight, and towards the end of their stay, the platoon leader is shown saying “I don’t f**king care” at the grievances brought up by the leaders.

Diplomatic Relations

In more ways than one, this is one of the hardest aspects to get through of the documentary, but also in the war period. At one point the tribe leaders actually journey to the outpost to speak with the platoon. At first, one of the soldiers tells the camera that since this has never happened before, this action is very positive and shows progress in the relations with the locals. However, the leaders have actually journeyed to the post because they’re really ticked about that cow being killed. Apparently the cow had been caught in a fence, and seeing that the cow was suffering, the platoon killed it. The tribe of course is displeased at this action, and demands repayment, in the form of a lot of money from the US government. When denied this request however, saying that they can only offer the tribe food and the like, relations deteriorate even more.


The battle of “hearts and minds” is referred to as a derogatory term by the men, referencing the semi-ultimate point of their mission. Their primary objective is to clear the valley of insurgents. In this, the establishment of the outpost named after the film’s namesake is seen as a great victory for the mission since it’s the farthest they’ve ever pushed into the valley before. Keep in mind however that the “outpost” is actually a glorified hole they’ve dug and surrounded with barriers filled with dirt, with a few canvases stretched across to provide a shelter. This glorified hole on a hill is considered by the men the greatest accomplishment of their deployment.

This brings us to either the film’s greatest strength, or its greatest weakness. That is to say that all the proceedings shown are ultimately pointless. It’s waiting around to be shot at, and in between you might gain a little bit more ground on the enemy, but they’re still lurking in the hills, just waiting to kill you, with the ultimate support of the locals that ultimately hate you being there. That’s the War in Afghanistan according to this film. A mostly pointless effort that’s more trouble than it’s worth. Granted, I kind of came to that conclusion myself, since the film doesn’t exactly spell anything out, but all the pieces are there. You’re watching a pointless effort.


The Filmmakers Behind The Camera: Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington

The question ultimately is whether Restrepo is worth watching. And ultimately, it’s kind of a personal decision, and what you’re looking for by watching the film. If you’re looking for war action, then you’ll mostly see descriptions of the actual action as told by the men. If you’re looking for a film about the slower moments of war, about a more personal side, then this effort will ultimately service you. If you’re looking for a look at the current War in Afghanistan, then you’ll also get that. For me, I had a range of emotions watching the film. At parts I was interested, at other parts I was angry, other parts bored, other parts frustrated, other parts intrigued. Ultimately however, if you do watch it, I can’t really find a scenario where you’ll want to watch it again. It’s an interesting work, but it’s just not one I can heartily recommend.



3/5 Leguizamos



Review: Extras

12 02 2011


Season 1:

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 6 30-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais, is an extra. You know, the people milling around in the background of a movie, never getting any lines, or more than a few seconds of screen time. Still, Andy and his friend Maggie have big dreams to break into actual acting roles. The episodes usually revolve around Andy trying to achieve this dream. Whether it’s convincing people that he should get a few lines of dialogue, or trying to sell them on the script for the sitcom he’s created.

I’ll be honest here, I picked up this show, my first rental from the library of the semester, as the Golden Globes awards reminded me how much I love Ricky Gervais and his trademark brand of humor. Frankly though, the first season is kind of a chore to get through. Gervais or any of the character don’t really add anything that we haven’t seen before on Entourage, or the little-seen but excellent Party Down. In fact, Andy’s attempts to achieve his dreams come off more annoying than anything.

In the episode, “Ben Stiller,” Andy befriends/manipulates a man whose life-story is being made into a movie directed by Ben Stiller, into getting speaking role. In previous roles where Gervais has played this same type of character, like in “The Office,” he had people in the environment to play off of, or at least would call him on his self-serving antics. Here, it more often than not just feels like he’s taking advantage of those not wise enough to call him on said antics. It all just seems a little too self-contained to really be taken as funny. His friend Maggie does get a good sub-plot in an episode where she tries not being overly sensitive on race when she starts dating a mixed-race actor. This type of plot is familiar to the Gervais staple, but it’s hilarious all the same.

The saving grace of the season however are the celebrities that cameo in the episode they’re named after.. Since Andy is working on an actual movie set, real-life actors are usually around, and they always come into contact with Andy at some point during the episode.¬† Kate Winslet will come around for instance and give advice to the characters on their sex lives. Patrick Stewart will talk about how he’s writing a script whose situation’s usually involve a topless female. However, Ben Stiller may have the best cameo as the director of a war film he’s making because in addition to people watching Dodgeball twenty times in a row due to its funniness, he also wants people to feel something. This Ben Stiller also has a proclivity for inserting the gross of Meet the Parents into a conversation whenever possible. So yeah, it’s pretty hilarious.

I will also compliment the show on using a Cat Stevens song as its end credits song. By the end of the first season I had fully memorized Stevens’ “Tea For Tillerman.”

Season 2:

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 6 30-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais, has finally sold his sitcom with the help of Patrick Stewart, to the BBC. The show becomes a huge hit, but with it Andy must sell his creative soul as the character he plays in the show resorts to catchphrases and wearing funny wigs to draw comedy.

Ah, what a change of venue can do for your show. Along with the drastic change of settings and circumstances for Andy, the show also figured out a lot of the problems that the show was having. Stephen Merchant is better integrated into the show for example.

But the best change is the large-stage that Andy now finds himself on. Andy’s still the jerk he ever was, but now when he’s a jerk, the whole world knows about it due to his drastically increased popularity. As such, the sporadic trickle of comedy from the first season now becomes an ever-flowing stream.

Probably the series’ best moments come in the form the episode “Daniel Radcliffe.” In the episode, Andy complains about a child making too much noise in a fancy restaurant, and when he brushes of the child’s mother, the media runs with the story absolutely killing Andy’s reputation as the story grows ever more out of control. But of course, the episode ends with Andy inadvertently getting to a fight with dwarf actor Warwick Davis, and knocking him unconscious. Andy got his fame by selling out for a sitcom. But fame just means that everybody in the world knows the mistakes you make. Andy Millman, mostly due to his personality, makes a lot of mistakes. Let the career suicide begin.

I won’t spoil it for you, but trust me, it’s hilarious.

The celebrity cameos are also somehow funnier. During the season, Andy’s friend Maggie somehow becomes attracts the affections of a self-obsessed Orlando Bloom is absolutely baffled when a woman doesn’t instantly want to throw herself at him, and a sex-obsessed Daniel¬† Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter. And unlike the previous season whose major star cameos for that episode would only be known in Britain, this season boasts an impressive array of A-list cameos.

If you’re wondering, you can essentially skip Season 1 and not miss much plot wise, and jump right into Season 2. In fact, you could watch Season 2 only, and be better off for it.

The Extras Christmas Special:

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 1 84-minute episode

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais, is more famous than ever due to his show. But he wants more than a character who spews catchphrases and wears silly wigs. So he gets a new agent and leaves his still-popular show determined once and for all to become a respected actor. As suspected, things don’t go as planned.

As with “The Office,” Extras had two very short seasons, then ended their show. Then of course a year later, they came back with a “Christmas Special” which essentially took a look at the characters a year later to give them more closure. Unlike The Office however, Extras probably should have just left well-enough alone. I mean, the 2nd season won an American Emmy Award for Best Comedy. Season 2 had left the series off in a nice place, but due to audience requests and the like, they brought it back for one last special to wrap the show up.

The Christmas Special isn’t interested in laughs as much as it is focusing on Andy’s journey to gain respectability. This of course leads into an existentialist look on fame itself, and everything one goes through to achieve it. It’s basically the same message the series has been peddling all along, but now there’s no laughs to offset it. And if there’s no laughs to offset it, you’re entirely dependent on the message, then it has to be presented well.

I don’t want to go into the details of it, but essentially Andy makes a speech on Big Brother renouncing essentially everything that has made Ricky Gervais a successful actor. And at least in my opinion, it comes off as pretentious. Your opinion will vary on his decision, and the whole special in general, but I didn’t care for it.

The Extras Christmas Special:

Chris Martin & Andy Millman as his sitcom character

Overall, Extras is at its best is a hilarious parable about how being at the height of popularity just means that your mistakes have that much farther to fall. At its worst, its a pretentious and unfunny bore done better in a myriad of other places. I would be more than happy to reccomend the 2nd season (2nd series if you’re British), and give it 5 Leguizamos. But as/is, it’s bookended by a season and a special that I would each give 2 Leguizamos. But since I’m judging the series as a whole, I give it:

3/5 Leguizamos