Given how Sebastian Junger's Korengal, like Restrepo before it, separates itself "from the vagaries of prewar justifications and post-combat exit strategies" (per our own Matthew Connolly), the film's tagline, "This is what war feels like," becomes something of a misnomer. A redundant addendum to Restrepo that's been cobbled together from never-before-seen footage, the documentary similarly emphasizes the personal over the political to arrive at essential truths about the brotherhood of men at war. Junger intercuts interviews with soldiers from the U.S. Army platoon once stationed in Afghanistan's violent Korengal Valley with the unused Restrepo footage he and the deceased Tim Hetherington shot more than six years ago to attest to the bravery, fetish-like regard for weaponry, and, most keenly, the sense of tactical awareness of their subjects. The result is an alternately gripping and dully meandering patchwork of these soldiers' simultaneously chill and quite literally maddening stay in the Korengal that pointedly shuns big-picture philosophizing. Interviewed shortly after they left the region, these men recall their time there, as well as the adrenaline rush of combat, with a nostalgia that's discomfiting, but the filmmaker doesn't press his subjects to elaborate on their feelings of loss and personal alienation, either because he understands them to naturally resist sentimentality or for fear that that their views on such subjects as race might show them in a less than favorable light. (One episode, in which a black soldier rambles about his odd-man-out status, is conspicuous for its lack of counterpoint.) Tragically, just as Junger seeks to once again divorce his film from the politics of war, he also distances it from the politics of memory, leaving audiences feeling adrift and to wonder just how much these soldiers' disconcerting need to return to the frat-house atmosphere they cultivated in the Korengal speaks to the pressures of unfulfilled lives back in the States.
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