Afghanistan War Documentary 'Korengal' Reveals The Dehumanizing Effects Of Combat
In 2010, filmmaker-journalists Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger released a remarkable documentary about the mess that is the War in Afghanistan. Candidly documenting their stay with a company on an outpost looking over one of the most deadly locations in the war-torn country, Hetherington and Junger's Restrepo remains one of the best and most important films about the War on Terror. Put together mostly from hand-held camera footage of a soldier's life in Outpost Restrepo overlooking the Korengal Valley, Restrepo accurately portrayed the combat as pure chaos and was a political film that did not reply on the use of talking points or head-on interviews with politicians or activists to make its point. The War in Afghanistan was futile and pointless, and there was no end in sight amidst the chaos.
Using leftover footage that was shot to make Restrepo, Junger (without Hetherington, who died on assignment in Libya in 2011) returns with Korengal to make a less-concise statement about the dehumanizing effects of war on its individual participants. Korengal uses moments from the old footage that turns its attention more on the faces behind the guns, and leans more on the candid interviews conducted while on break from the combat at the unit's base in Italy. There are some truly revealing and fascinating moments captured on tape, such as an African-American soldier expressing his sense of alienation from his white comrades in arms and the roll call of weapons the soldiers love to use (especially their fetishization of the .50 caliber machine gun, the "sexiest" one that has the ability to rip human bodies to shreds without a direct hit). Chilling moments come from the talk of the adrenaline high of combat and a Bronze Star recipient who would make himself an easier target during gunfights.
Depicting the isolating and dehumanizing effects of the young men politicians send out to fight pointless wars is a noble cause, but Korengal can be unfocused to the point of softening its blow. After all, it is literally deleted scenes from a far more fully realized work. Korengal is a fine follow-up to Restrepo, but stands largely in its shadow.
Korengal opens at the Nuart Theatre in West L.A. today.