I watched Restrepo six years ago, almost to the day. I found it to be an excellent documentary.
That title follows, over a one-year period of filming, one airborne unit on a 15 month deployment in one of the more hazardous regions of Afghanistan. At the beginning of the deployment, medic Private First Class Juan Restrepo is killed in a firefight. As the mission continues, the unit is tasked to create a new outpost deeper into uncontrolled territory, and the soldiers name the outpost Restrepo, in honor of their fallen comrade. The film also focuses on a later battle in which three Americans were killed and seven wounded. But the film also shows the day-to-day routine of the unit, and their thoughts on their deployment.
Following the critical and financial success of that film and the death of one if its producer/directors, the remaining director began work on a follow-up piece. I hadn’t known of this effort until Netflix decided to pull it from its streaming lineup, prompting me to give it a watch while I had the chance.
It is impossible (for me, at least) to view the film Korengal independently of the first. It was always intended as a companion piece. Also, consisting of documentary footage, it relied on the same set of material recorded for the first go around. Right away, this gives me a sense of disappointment. I’ve already been presented much of this stuff in a chronological narrative, and now here it is again organized topically. Is this really a fresh movie? One Netflix reviewer stated that the footage used to compose the second documentary was all actually already available on the bonus features of the DVD release. That’s not something I’m inclined to verify, but it does sound plausible.
It makes it difficult to give a thumbs up to something that feels recycled.
As far as the new format (topical rather than chronological) goes, it hits and it misses. Each topic mixes in-country footage and post-deployment interviews to different aspects of modern army life. Heroism, the ups-and-downs of a soldiers life, and everyone’s favorite gun are all discussed. Individual scenes can be very powerful. A soldier is questions about the one thing he’ll missing most about Afghanistan. He answers, “shooting people.”
If Korengal were the first (or perhaps the only) of the two films, how would I feel about it? It’s hard to unknow what has predispositioned me against the film, but I think if I would have come across this blind, I would have considered it a decent, but not exceptional documentary.
It doesn’t pull it all together the way Restrepo did.