Director: Sebastian Junger
Watch Battle Company: Korengal online: Netflix UK / Eircom / Virgin Movies / EE / TalkTalk / TalkTalk TV / iTunes
In 2010, Sebastian Junger filmed Restrepo, a documentary following a year in the lives of the 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the US Army. The 503rd were posted in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, a remote mountain region referred to by the US media as the “Valley of Death”.
Now, Junger has created a follow-up in Battle Company: Korengal. As the US Army begins to pull out of the country, Junger was embedded with the members of the 503rd as part of a 15-month tour, inviting them to reflect on their lives in the valley and their lives as soldiers.
Physcially, Junger’s film is, by force of necessity, a very intimate one. The soldiers must leave their enclosure of barbed wire at a run each morning to avoid potshots by the Taliban; moving away from the camera is never an option. But there is an equally intimate relationship between the director and his subject. Mostly, it is a bond forged in loss: Junger’s co-director on Restrepo, photojournalist Tim Hetherington, was tragically killed in 2011 while covering the events in Libya. The 503rd, meanwhile, are no strangers to the idea of death. Their tattoos are reminders of their brushes with mortality; their camp, named for a fallen comrade, serves as the ultimate memento mori.
Captain Dan Kearney and his men are compelling subjects, speaking in the poetic simplicity of all soldiers returned from combat. When one says he would fall on a grenade to protect his buddies, you believe him. When another says that he would hop on a plane to go back into the valley at a moment’s notice, you believe him too.
We all know by now that war is hell. Which begs the question: what is Sebastian Junger trying to tell us? The movie is staunchly apolitical; there is no condemnation of foreign policy here, just a grunt’s perspective of how it really is. But by removing that urge to give an opinion, Junger also robs the film of its chance to be more interesting.
Battle Company: Korengal brings to mind Mike Grigsby’s duo of documentaries about the war in Vietnam. I Was A Soldier followed three Texan boys finishing their tour overseas and the follow-up, We Went To War, focused on their lives as civilians. But the difference was that Grigsby waited three decades for the sequel – the result was a completely different film. One can see in the eyes of Junger’s subjects that the wounds are too fresh. These men are still soldiers, not veterans, and the result is a second film with more of the same.
There is, though, a noble intention behind it. It’s a frank and honest portrayal of life in one of the most hellish jobs ever given to US soldiers – something many would have found inconceivable. But to those who’ve seen many war movies, particularly those familiar with Restrepo, this sequel can’t help but feel redundant.
Battle Company: Korengal is available to watch online on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
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