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Review

Korengal

By STEPHEN HOLDEN The New York Times

This article was published July 18, 2014 at 2:31 a.m.

Korengal

87 Cast: Documentary

Director: Sebastian Junger

Rating: R

Running time: 84 minutes

How boring is a soldier's life in the mountains of Afghanistan during the lulls between firefights? A serviceman interviewed in Korengal, the sequel to the 2010 documentary Restrepo, recalls that one day he and his Army buddies spent "five or six hours" arguing who would win in a fight between George Clooney and Fabio.

The documentary, directed by Sebastian Junger, consists largely of interviews with men in a platoon that fought in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, where 42 Americans died before the United States military pulled out of the area in April 2010. Where a good part of Restrepo was filmed in the heat of battle, Korengal is a collective meditation on military life by many of the same men, looking back on their time in Afghanistan. Junger's co-director on Restrepo, the British-American photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who shot much of the early footage in Korengal, died in 2011 while covering the Libyan civil war.

The sequel is much more than a collection of outtakes from the first film, augmented by footage shot later. It consists mostly of a series of extended interviews with the soldiers. As the camera goes from one to another and then back, the men, photographed in extreme close-up, describe in dispassionate tones the mixture of fear and exhilaration that made combat the most intense experience they had ever known. The brotherhood of men facing death is a bond that eclipses even family ties in its intensity. More than one soldier declares he would gladly die to save one of his fellow combatants.

A lot more bitterness is expressed in Korengal than in Restrepo, which celebrated the "high" of combat with a romantic exhilaration. One disillusioned soldier delivers an angry rebuttal to a common response to his post-combat anguish: "You did what you had to do." In fact, he says, he had a choice; he didn't have to serve in Afghanistan. A black soldier muses about not feeling fully accepted by his brothers in arms because of his race. That's about as political as the movie gets. No one exalts patriotism, but no one explicitly criticizes the war.

Many of the soldiers interviewed feel empty. They miss the camaraderie of men who lived together 24 hours a day and depended on one another for survival. They miss the adrenaline of battle and the excitement of having "cheated death."

As one soldier succinctly puts it, "I'd go back there if I could."

MovieStyle on 07/18/2014

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