Restrepo, the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is unlike any other war film or documentary. It's composed only of real footage of a platoon of American soldiers during a grueling 14-month tour of duty in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley starting in May 2007, and interviews with them afterwards in Italy, as they recount and process the experience.
The filmmakers - Sebastian Junger (journalist and author of "The Perfect Storm") and combat photographer Tim Hetherington - wisely remain in the background, capturing in matter-of-fact footage the constant firefights, nightly patrols, meetings with local tribal elders, stretches of downtime and intense, often playful camaraderie that exists between these men.
Viewers also experience firsthand what it's like when one of their brotherhood is killed. After the death of beloved soldier "Doc" Juan Restrepo, his platoon mates push on to set up a pivotal combat outpost - amidst non-stop enemy fire - and name it in honor of him. Later, when another soldier is killed, the camera unblikingly captures their reaction at the time, as well as their thoughts on the matter months later.
The war is brutal and emminently taxing, but the film shows how these guys continue to do the tough job, and exist by serving each other.
There are lots of outstanding films that capture the realities and horrors of war, but Restrepo is unique because it is not a story about politics, and it is not a manufactured or sensationalized recreation. It is simply a record of what happened, and as such, a tribute to people who serve on the front lines.