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“Restrepo,” a year of living dangerously.

“Restrepo,” a year of living dangerously. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Restrepo is a soldier, Juan “Doc” Restrepo, big personality, good with a guitar, died early on in the Second Platoon, Battle Company’s 15-month tour in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, bleeding out from a gunshot wound while in the helicopter taking him toward medical help, leaving behind a flicker of self-shot video from the week before deployment. “Restrepo,” the documentary installment of the segmented Sundance 2010 opening night, gets its title from him, but also from the scraggly bunker the platoon builds deeper into insurgent territory — Outpost Restrepo, named in honor of their fallen friend.

Restrepo isn’t the first or last member of the Second Platoon to be killed over the course of the year that journalist Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington (who share co-director credit on the film) spent embedded with them. Stationed in a remote and incredibly dangerous area, the unit struggles with the seemingly insurmountable task of overseeing the building of a road through the valley with the help of locals, who are less than inclined to lend their support because of the previous captain’s tendency to kill off the uninvolved along with the insurgents.

01212010_restrepo2.jpgBut mostly they seem to be there to get shot at, and to shoot back, especially the dozen-plus men at Outpost Restrepo, who are under constant fire. “Restrepo” is partially about how danger becomes normalized — while death is always lurking for these men, they still end up goofing off, roughhousing, singing. In one shot, a soldier climbs on top of a massive machine gun to perform some kind of maintenance check while carrying on a conversation over walkie-talkie with a colleague about the type of ranch he grew up on.

Junger and Hetherington shot the film themselves, and have some spectacular combat footage that’s almost difficult to wrap your head around — the handheld camera, the whip pans to action that’s already going on, the sense of adrenaline-addled disorientation has become the cinematic language of modern war, and when the film dumps you directly into an encounter with an IED, it takes work to remind yourself that it’s not, in fact, “The Hurt Locker,” and that the bullets peppering the ground at the feet of the man you’re watching would take at least a few toes off if they connected.

Pointing out that “Restrepo” is a nonfiction companion to “The Hurt Locker” is unavoidable — there are direct echoes in the way the men interact, in the generally apolitical tone, in the microfocus and structuring around timeframe instead of narrative arc, in the observation made by one man that getting shot at is an incomparable high. But I was also reminded of Kimberly Peirce’s muddier, emotionally anguished “Stop-Loss,” in terms of the tenderness with which the soldiers are treated, and in the portrayal of their sense of brotherhood. The film peppers footage taken during the year with more intimate interviews with some of them afterward, boys with baby faces and tough-guy tattoos who alternate between looking world-weary and painfully young. That tenderness, I think, is partially a natural outgrowth of being embedded, and part of the reason embedding exists. How can you live with a group of people, unified under the threat of constant danger, without feeling like you’re invested, one of them, part of the team?

01212010_restreppo1.jpgIt’s not a complaint, more an observation — there were times when I wondered if the film was being particularly gentle with its subjects, who all come across as very nice boys; who are, for the most part, free of virulent racism; and who might come to hate the assignment, but who never regret serving their country.

That would also account for what I found to be the film’s only major misstep, a series of comic bits that play over the credits, and that come across as, well, outtakes. This isn’t a Jackie Chan movie, and sending the audience away laughing isn’t a sentiment that at all seems to fit this otherwise artful, excellent doc.

“Restrepo” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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