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Restrepo: movie review

'Restrepo' offers frontline seats to Afghanistan's war, as Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington document a 15-month deployment of a U.S. platoon in the dangerous Korengal Valley.

Directors Sebastian Junger (l.) and Tim Hetherington on location for ‘Restrepo,’ filmed in Afghanistan.

Tim Hetherington/Outpost Films/AP

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Conventional wisdom has it that the reality of war is best captured not by dramatic films but by documentaries. And yet documentary filmmakers are just as likely to shape and refract their movies – to push a vision, an agenda – as any of their dramatic counterparts.

It's equally true that the dramatic truth of a fictional film can be more revelatory than a documentary rendering. A straight-up newsreel of the Normandy invasion may have the gravity of actuality, but "Saving Private Ryan" puts you right inside the inferno.

I raise these issues because the justly acclaimed new documentary "Restrepo" is being touted as more "real" than other war movies, including many war documentaries, because it records, without any apparent editorial intrusion, the 15-month deployment of a platoon of American soldiers in Eastern Afghanistan's highly dangerous Korengal Valley between May 2007 and July 2008.

Starting in 2007, Tim Hetherington, a veteran war-zone photographer, and author Sebastian Junger, best known for "The Perfect Storm," made a total of 10 trips to Korengal as embedded journalists on assignment for ABC News and Vanity Fair. It was Junger's idea to follow a single platoon for its entire deployment and then collaborate on a documentary and write a book about the experience ("War").

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