Movie Review: “Korengal” Is A Powerful Experience

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Review by James McDonald

Korengal picks up where Restrepo left off; the same men, the same valley, the same commanders, but a very different look at the experience of war.

“Korengal” is listed as the follow-up to “Restrepo”, a 2010 documentary that spent a year with one platoon in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. I never saw saw that movie but in researching “Korengal”, I found out that it pretty much picks up where “Restrepo” came to and end. There are many documentaries out there that have chronicled soldiers and their platoons during their many different battles including the first two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

With “Korengal”, we are introduced to the Men of Battle Company 2/503 and through their eyes and storied recollections, we discover what life is like for these soldiers as they spend over a year in the Korengal Valley – a rugged canyon six miles long near the border with Pakistan which is considered an epicenter of the US war in Afghanistan. One soldier, expecting to land in the desert, was shocked beyond belief when he realized that the valley was surrounded by beautiful wooded landscapes and breathtaking snow-covered mountain peaks.

We accompany the soldiers as they make their way down into the canyon to have their weekly meeting with the village elders and their biggest fear, is trying to figure out where they will take cover if they come under fire because most of their trek, to and from the village, is wide open. Any time they leave their base, that thought is first and foremost in their minds, all the time as we hear stories about gunfire unexpectedly besieging their camp in the middle of the night, killing some of their comrades in the process.

Living in sandbag huts that they built themselves, with no running water and no life whatsoever, other than the Taliban that were firing on them, it was captivating, observing these men in such a beautiful yet desolate hell hole, keeping each other’s spirits up, not allowing one another to immerse themselves in despair or fear. Sometimes, bullets would ring out and they would be pinned to the ground, not knowing where they were coming from so they would have to resort to tactical awareness, to try and figure out which direction the gunshots were coming from so they could retaliate.

What I really liked about “Korengal”, is that it didn’t resort to emotional cues through schmaltzy music to try and force the viewer to tear up when any of the soldiers were talking about their fallen comrades. Instead, the film lets the soldiers tell their collective stories and through their own words and personal temperaments, we get a small glimpse of the hell that they endured, with no contact from the outside world, just each other’s friendship and mutuality. I really liked this powerhouse of a movie and would highly recommend it.

In select theaters June 20th including the Angelika Dallas & Angelika Plano

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James McDonald
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