According to “Korengal’s” press kit, the documentary picks up “where ‘Restrepo’ left off.”
Yet the new film — a flawed but intriguing companion piece to the 2011 Oscar nominated documentary profiling a group of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan — is more retread than sequel. Not only does it redeploy interviews with the very same soldiers seen in the first film, but it also features field footage from the same period (a 15-month tour of duty in 2007 and 2008) and from the same location (a remote and dangerous outpost nicknamed “Restrepo,” after slain Army medic Juan “Doc” Restrepo).
“Korengal,” in other words, feels more like outtakes from “Restrepo” than an update to it.
That said, “Korengal” director Sebastian Junger — whose “Restrepo” co-director, photojournalist Tim Hetherington, was killed while covering the 2011 Libyan civil war — doesn’t go over the exact same ground that the filmmakers covered in the first film. As suggested by the new film’s title, which refers to the valley where Outpost Restrepo was located, “Korengal” zooms out from the first film’s granular focus on the day-to-day life of the modern warrior, taking a broader, bigger-picture approach to life during wartime.
If “Restrepo” was interested in the conduct of battle — both its boredom and its bloodshed — “Korengal” is interested in such larger questions as the nature of morality and bravery. One soldier wonders aloud whether God might be angry with him for some of the things he has done.
There is, of course, some overlap between the two films, leading to a sense, at times, that “Korengal” is a making-of movie. If any “Restrepo” viewers were curious about how soldiers stationed on an Afghan mountaintop powered laptops, hand-held gaming devices and other electronics, “Korengal” shows the delivery, via army helicopter, of a giant generator.