"Their experiences are important to understand, regardless of one's political beliefs. Beliefs are a way to avoid reality. This is reality" (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington)
Restrepo is a documentary by photographer Tim Hetherington and writer Sebastian Junger. The film follows a platoon of US troops deployed to Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. They were there for over a year in one of the deadliest war zones in the world. Dug in deep and fighting close contact with the Taliban.
Restrepo is without a doubt an incredibly visceral and intense experience and is unusual for a feature length documentary due it's frankness and simplicity of style. The portrayal of the troops and their experiences are honest and delivered without any preconceived narrative or political ideology. The simplicity of the films tag line 'one platoon, one valley, one year' holds true.
This is partly what makes Restrepo stand out as war documentary...it doesn't try to explain any back story, project any repercussions, or even show another side to what's being shown, The film makers have followed through with their mission statement and delivered the 'real thing'.
Perhaps this is why it such a difficult film to write about. There is almost little to comment or criticize about it, because the film goes against what a lot of contemporary documentaries try to do...Restrepo is not trying to swing the viewer in any political or ideological way. It's straight up documentary about people fighting in war us at home are all to quick to forget about and ignore.
On the Restrepo website it states: 'This is war, full stop. The Conclusions are up to you.'
Well...I'm struggling to write some kind of 'review' of this film, but having watched it...here are my conclusions...
As a film, it is unique and engaging and forces the viewer to experience the concept of modern war from the unique position of the soldiers, the people living with the reality of the war. The film does this and stands out as a piece contemporary film making in a time when there so much spin and propaganda in this subject matter. The events the men go through are as in engaging as anything a script writer could come up with. We genuinely see the brutal action and fighting they go through, the frustration of their situation, the boredom of being stuck on a hillside for months on end and the inevitable crude comedy and genuine outpouring of emotion that will come from fifteen men alone in a foreign war zone. Half way through the film I found myself forgetting where they were and what context of the film was, I was too invested with the 'characters' and what they were directly going through at that moment. In this respect the film truly achieved it's goal...I had disregarded my beliefs for a short while and was in the reality.
However, I can't help but feel that this project would have worked better as series of shorter installments. One year is long time, to condense it to 90 mins is I feel asking too much for the story and of the audience to effectively process the information. Perhaps a mini-series of hour long episodes would have served the story better as I couldn't help but feel that there was a lot more going on than what was shown on screen. (I'm sure Sebastian Junger's book 'War' goes into more detail however.)
Despite the film makers intensions to depict the reality of the events, the viewers beliefs and politics are tugged at here. By the end of the film I couldn't help but be left with a bitter taste in my mouth as I wondered 'What the hell were actually doing there and what did they achieve?'
Unfortunately, these haunting questions may have left more an in-print on me than the reality of these soldiers experience. This perhaps is a triumph of the film. By taking the viewer on a reality trip through an experience and showing more directly and first hand what is going on in this world. It is easy to hold an opinion on the rights or wrongs of war, even if you no little about the reasons for or against it. But this film (whether it wants to do this or not) strongly reaffirmed my view that most of the foreign policy regarding the war in Afghanistan is as pointlessly bizarre as anything that happened in Vietnam.
Restrepo will hopefully continue a conversation that needs to be had regarding the wars we (as countries) send ourselves on. Perhaps by not getting bogged down by any political and emotional ideology, Restrepo has demonstrated more effectively and sincerely that these wars and the driving force behind them need to be re-thought and addressed in a dramatically and in a REALISTIC manner.
Alamaris an amalgamation of many things. It is part documentary, part drama, part environment protection movie, part father/son story, emotional, minimal, melancholy, engaging and incredibly watchable.
It is a Mexican film on the premise of a young boy going on an extended fishing trip with his estranged fisherman father (the back story of the father's relationship with the boys mother is explained in a wonderfully simple, eloquent way by both characters in the opening minuets). What follows a very simplistic depiction of this trip and the relationship that develops between the father and son, and also with the boy and the environment. The coast of the Yucatan in southern Mexico is arguably the main character of the film as is it's depiction on the ocean, the reefs, the wildlife and the way of life of the humans that inhabit the area that are a major driving force of the film.
In this respect Alamar has three major factors to it. The role of nature and the environment, the father/son relationship and also the fine balance between documentary and fiction that film oscillates with in a wonderfully flowing, natural and unique way.
The characters in the film are real and so is the relationships they have with each other, however some of circumstances regarding the actual reasons for trip and the family dynamic are fictionalized. The film never announces itself as either documentary or drama, it merely does what it does, and it does this throughout on its on terms and agenda. And it is this that is the reason for it's artistic and emotional success. The apparent simplicity of narrative and style leads the viewer to draw their own emotions and feelings towards what they are seeing and witnessing. A perfect example of less being more. A cynic could easily call this film boring and pointless. But that would be a truly awful kind of person. Alamar does what so many films fail to do, it lets the viewer think and draw themselves into a story that although is set in a unique place about a unique group of people, it is really a film everyone can relate to and be mesmerized by.
Actor Stephen Graham has came as been proving himself a fine character actor over the last few years playing supporting roles as mostly reckless and fearsome gangster types. Most notably in films like Snatch (Guy Ritchie), Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese)and Public Enemies (Michael Mann). Arguably his juiciest role has been 'Combo' in Shane Meadows masterpiece This Is England.
When This Is England was released a few years ago, the acclaim and spotlight were focused squarely and intently on director/writer Shane Meadows and young lead actor Thomas Turgoose. And quite rightly so, Meadows had been making the most interesting and exciting British films for the last ten years and was finally getting sufficient acclaim and recognition. And Turgoose indeed played the role of Shaun a young boy left fatherless due to Falklands war who looks to a gang of skinheads for acceptance and comfort with such honesty and conviction that you could see on screen that there was something more to this story than just a role for an actor (Turgoose) and just a film for a writer/director (Meadows). This Is England was a personal story for both this guys. For Meadows it was an expression of his youth seen through the culture and time he grew up with delivering that expression acutely through the medium he had learned to master. For Turgoose his performance was that of a young man who doesn't yet understand the method and practice of acting (he wasn't in any way an actor before This Is England) and more of a cathartic outpouring of his own young experiences and clear forward projection of this young man's potential as an actor.
But anyway, despite all this, I still think the best performance from This Is England was Graham's multi layered portrayal of a confused, disturbed, dangerous young man at specific time in his life and at a significant time of England's recent history.
The fear, comedy, intensity and dramatic reality that Graham bought to the role accompany Meadow's story, script and filmic style perfectly as did Paddy Considine's iconic performance in Dead Man's Shoe's.
The strength of Graham's performance was reinforced by his recent outing in Meadows TV spin-off This Is England '86 which aired earlier this month. I didn't like it...straight up. It had heart, but was a massive case of style of substance. Although the characters were still engaging and enjoyable to watch, the mini series failed to have any real gravitas. Perhaps this was because the show focused on characters that we're devised as supporting roles for a story that Shane Meadows himself described as personal story about a young boy coming to terms with the death of his father (referring to This Is England). Therefore these characters 'Lol', 'Woody', 'Milky', 'Gadget' etc whilst being enjoyable and funny had no real grounding or hinge for the viewer base themselves on whilst watching. However. In the final episode 'Combo' reappears and his short but devastatingly intense performance really salvaged the whole project.
When he finds 'Lol' distraught after the vicious and atrocious attack on her by her father, 'Combo's' explanation, justification and consolation to her is a remarkable and emotionally shattering piece of dramatic acting. For sure credit is also due to Meadows for his superb writing and deliberately restrained directing style, and Vicky McClure and Johnny Harris ('Lol' and 'Mick' (the father)) certainly hold their own in the scene, but this was the one of only two scenes in the whole series that I felt that had any real depth and weight to it. The other is when 'Combo' (Graham again) returns his mother's flat to find a neighbour there and that his mother had died the night before. 'Combo's' reaction is so minimal yet the viewer gets a full impression of the emotional toil that runs through the character. This combined with the more visceral, intense performance from the scene with 'Lol' shows Stephen Graham's acting range as much more than a simplistic 'thug' type as he is normally cast as.
But perhaps, that is why his performances as these types of character are so engaging and intense to watch. Because he can take a simplistic 'thug' type character and make that character a multi layered individual, creating a tension within the viewer (as in the viewer sees a typical character in a different/new light as well as keeping with the pre-conceived ideas of what the generic stereotypical character is) as to make for truly engaging experience.
But from somewhere up north in the 80's to Atlantic City in the 20's. Stephen Graham is now playing a major role as none other than Al Capone in the latest remarkable series from HBO, Boardwalk Empire. Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter (The Sopranos writer) depiction of organised crime during the prohibition era. Stephen Graham's portrayal as a young Al Capone have so far (only four episodes in to date) shown all the hallmarks of his remarkable work with Shane Meadows and also suggests comparrison to the type of performance Scorsese has got out Joe Pesci time and again.
I'm sure in the coming episodes he will have his own "funny how?" speech!
And he can do east coast gangster accent much better than Ray Winstone...(no disrespect Ray!)
The songs and music of Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street band share a synergy with the American road and high-ways that is unparalleled. This is just a little joke.
Unfortunately there's not enough room on these for the whole of 'State Trooper'....shame because that really would be fitting....
New Jersey Turnpike ridin' on a wet night 'neath the refinery's glow Out where the great black rivers flow License, registration, I ain't got none but I got a clear conscience 'Bout the things that I done Mister state trooper, please don't stop me Please don't stop me, please don't stop me
Maybe you got a kid, maybe you got a pretty wife the only thing that I got's been both'rin' me my whole life Mister state trooper, please don't stop me Please don't stop me, please don't stop me
In the wee wee hours your mind gets hazy, radio relay towers lead me to my baby Radio's jammed up with talk show stations It's just talk, talk, talk, talk, till you lose your patience Mister state trooper, please don't stop me
Hey, somebody out there, listen to my last prayer
Hiho silver-o, deliver me from nowhere
I did these through Atom.Smasher (http://atom.smasher.org/) have a go if you find your self not sleeping or have too much time on your hands.
The artists job is to get your audience to care about your obsessions. The things that you think are more important and more vital and more essential than anything else in the world.
'The writing and the imagining of a world. Thats a particular thing, thats a single finger print all the film makers we love, all the writers, all the song writers...they put there finger print on your imagination.'
So this little chat between men in black shirts was to talk about a NEW but OLD Springsteen album!...effectively the missing link between Born To Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Two LP's of unreleased tracks from the 'Darkness...' sessions, a remastered version of Darkness on The Edge Of Town, a new documentary of unseen footage chronicling the period...and a new t-shirt!!!...damn YEAH!
Quentin Tarantino has only himself to answer too. His films are bold statements bursting out of his own persona and ego, influenced heavily by all the movies and pop culture that goes through his system.
There is however one other consistent individual that has crafted the films of Tarantino. Shaped the stories and help construct some of the most memorable scenes of recent cinema. Film Editor Sally Menke. Sadly she died last week from being over come by the heat whilst hiking in the hills outside of LA.
Few director/editor collaborations have been so successful and offered such a wide range of styles and creating such a variety of moods and emotions. The almost excruciatingly exciting tension of the ear slicing scene in Reservior Dogs, the cooler than cool dance scene in Pulp Fiction, the wonderful play with split screen technique and reaction in Jackie Brown, the opening and closing of Kill Bill ("Bill, it's your baby"...BANG! IN THE HEAD)/("Does she know he child is still alive?") basic perfection.....(and the martial art fight sequences may have made Hong Kong blush), to the awesome car chase and 4 POV car crash in Death Proof, to most recently everything about Inglorious Basterds....the opening interrogation by Hans Landa trying to root out hiding jews in a French farmhouse...probably one of the best crafted scenes ever!
Hopefully Tarantino will continue to create amazing and original films without his 'number one collaborator', but either way Sally Menke's talents and understaning of film and stories will be greatly missed. However, her talent and skill will remain with the films that ain't going no where!
The Guardian Film Blog has much more thorough and well-written obituary and over view...HERE!