Related without narration or score, the 2010 Restrepo was a remarkable vérité documentary account of the war in Afghanistan that immersed the audience in the immediacy, boredom, adrenaline, and fear experienced by the Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in the Korengal Valley, widely regarded as one of the most dangerous locations in the country.
The follow-up, Korengal, bears the tagline “This is what war feels like,” but this time, director Sebastian Junger means something different. Restrepo co-director Tim Hetherington died in 2012 while covering the civil war in Libya, and Junger revisited unused footage they shot together for the first film and embellished it with retrospective interviews with the soldiers.
The result, scored with a pensive, tonal soundtrack by Marty Beller, is more conventional, but more introspective than its predecessor. From post-war perspectives, the men reminisce about the hellish terrain of Korengal, often expressing nostalgic meditations on the difficult conditions there.
Though nobody ever mentions PTSD, one soldier relates the persistence of situational awareness into his civilian life, saying that he always knows where he’ll take cover if he hears shots. “I’ll go over that desk,” he tells the unseen interviewer.
Bronze Star recipient Miguel Cortez, who admits that he would often stand in the open during firefights, cites responsibility to his comrades as the catalyst that made him stop; if he’d been shot, he says, one of the other guys could have been killed trying to pull him to cover.
The frank honesty of these accounts testifies to the trust Junger and Hetherington cultivated among the Second Platoon in 2008.