Perhaps the Psalmist had in mind Afghanistan's Korangal Valley when composing the 23rd Psalm. The 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment would certainly agree; throughout the course of their deployment - and the duration of this documentary - the men of B Company are tasked with the thankless objective of securing the most deadly, unforgiving, and, as the film seems to suggest, useless plot of land on the face of the planet. Embedded alongside these troops are journalist Sebastian Junger (he of The Perfect Storm fame) and photojournalist Tim Hetherington whose footage informs the majority of the film.
Junger and Hetherington's coverage affords audiences an intimate, first-person perspective of military engagement that follows B Company in their efforts to establish an outpost (christened "Restrepo" in remembrance of a recently deceased comrade) at a strategic location in the Korangal Valley. It's worth noting that the combat footage captured in this film is immediate and harrowing, seemingly an attempt to shatter the abstraction of "The War in Afghanistan" tossed about so plaintively on the evening news. Gunshots and explosions are no longer special effects, rather, they are the very real exclamation points of the brutal deployment through which these men must struggle to survive.
Intercut with the chronological progress of B Company are ex post facto testimonials recorded with the surviving members of B Company. As they relate their experiences and elaborate on their thoughts, their facial expressions and mannerisms reveal scars both physical and otherwise. Having survived unimaginable horror, these men are now expected to return to a civilian life that now seems tragically alien. Asked how he plans to return to civilian life, one soldier admits that he has no idea.
Though ostensibly apolitical, Restrepo broaches a number of contentious issues. Junger and Hetherington seem to follow each sequence of frenetic combat with a wide shot of the indifferent, implacable Korangal Valley. This land is dry, craggy, cruel, and isolated (read: worthless). One trooper reminisces about hunting on his ranch back home which he describes as just a big plot of land where he shoots at things. Sounds awfully familiar.
The captain of B Company explains that the key to victory in the Korangal Valley lies in the cultivation of a relationship with the elder Afghani people, and the film documents a number of the unit's meetings and discussions with the Korangal Valley's community of elders. As the captain relates plans for new roads, supplies, and infrastructure during one such meeting, Hetherington's camera focuses on a particular elder as he attempts to open a packet of juice (think Capri Sun). Minutes later, having completely ignored the captain's speech, the elder has still failed to slide the straw into the pouch. Through moments like these, Junger and Hetherington seem to suggest a fundamental flaw in the American strategy that places our chances of success in the war somewhere outside the realm of possibility.