Picking up where his 2010 documentary Restrepo left off, Battle Company Korengal sees filmmaker Sebastian Junger return to Afghanistan’s remote Korengal Valley to revisit the men of the beleagured 2nd Platoon he and the late British war photographer Tim Hetherington spent a year embedded with for a series of Variety Fair articles during the Battle Company’s 15-month tour of duty.


A relentless piece of almost pure cinema vérité that would go on to be nominated for the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary, Restrepo eschewed narrative in favour of plunging the viewer into the lives of the fighting men on America’s frontline.  Stationed at the Restrepo outpost (named after Platoon medic PFC Juan Restrepo who was killed early in the deployment) overlooking the Korengal Valley in North Eastern Afghanistan, at the time the most dangerous place on Earth and nicknamed “the Valley of Death” by the troops, the film followed the overwhelmingly young and uneducated soldiers through days of tedium and deprivation punctuated by bursts of sporadic bloody violence as they try to win the hearts and minds of local villagers and tribesmen before taking part in the bloody Operation Rock Avalanche, a ferocious battle which saw US forces take the fight to the Taliban, the Platoon’s Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta becoming the first living person to win the Congressional Medal Of Honour since the Vietnam War.


A quieter, less visceral experience than Restrepo, Battle Company Korengal sees Junger revisit the unused film he and Hetherington shot in the wake of Hetherington’s death under fire while covering the Libyan civil war in 2011, tempering their already-shot material with talking heads interviews of the now mostly demobbed young warriors as well as archive news footage which allows a more contemplative perspective on the men’s war.


Where Restrepo focused on the day-to-day experience of serving in a war zone, the boredom and the constant threat, the hardship and the danger, Battle Company Korengal instead focuses on the men who serve, opening a window into their lives, their backgrounds, their motivations, their triumphs, their regrets, almost all of whom seem to chafe under the restrictions of civilian life and who would return in an instant to the Korengal and the easy camaraderie of the brothers they miss.


If the eponymous PFC Restrepo’s ghost haunted the earlier film, then it’s Hetherington’s loss that haunts Battle Company Korengal and, while it offers little that’s new, focusing more on the spiritual and emotional toll of warfare than on the war itself, the film works best as a mournful companion piece to Junger and Hetherington’s Restrepo.


VERDICT: [rating=3]

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