Rated R

What sets this down-in-the-hole documentary — which follows a company of U.S. soldiers over the course of a yearlong deployment to one of the deadliest places on earth — apart from so many other peeks into a distant war is that it humanizes dreadfully young combatants. Writer Sebastian Junger is famous for his into-the-fire journalistic style, but he's taken on the documentarian role with passion and gusto, placing the audience directly in the line of fire — a vantage point that permits us insights that the guys pulling the trigger have no time for. It allows us to understand that the war in Afghanistan is as abstract and detached to its fighters as it is to us. Massive explosions surround them constantly, the clack-clack of machine gun fire as perpetual as a woodpecker. But unless it's just loud enough to be close, to them it's just how the valley sounds. In a war with little hand-to-hand (or even face-to-face) combat, it's the relative safety of the fort that brings out the animal in the fighters. They grapple, play music, and cook for each other with as much intensity and pride as when they march up mountains. When one of their own becomes a casualty, they mourn with shocking rawness, even while taking fire. They remain above all else human, and Restrepo never lets us forget that.

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