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In 'Tillman' and 'Restrepo,' a pair of Afghanistan movies that seek a place above politics

June 20, 2010 | 11:52 am


For many of us, the prospect of going to a movie theater to see a war documentary has about the same appeal as getting our eyebrows repeatedly plucked out by a pair of rusty tweezers.

But any thoughts of discomfiture should be thrown out the window for two Afghanistan films that play in Los Angeles in the next week: Amir Bar-Lev's posthumous portrait of a soldier in "The Tillman Story" and Sebastian Junger's and Tim Hetherington's verite look at a U.S. army platoon in "Restrepo."

"Tillman," which plays the Los Angeles Film Festival on Sunday, tells the ostensibly familiar story of former NFL player and fallen U.S. soldier Pat Tillman in an altogether fresh way. It's both blood-boiling and poignant to watch Tillman's family seek the truth about his death, as well as uncover the layers of Tillman himself (a man who enlisted in the Army out of a sense of patriotism, but who also read the anti-war writings of Noam Chomsky).

Tillma "Restrepo," which opens in Los Angeles this Friday, offers a somewhat more raw filmgoing experience but makes some equally powerful choices as it shows moments of both adrenaline and tedium experienced by a group of soldiers fighting in the Korengal Valley, one of Afghanistan's most dangerous battlegrounds.

Both films were eye-opening and at times jaw-dropping, which is why we were extremely taken with them at the Sundance Film Festival (click on the links for our take on "Restrepo" and "Tillman"), and why it's heartening to see a broader audience get a chance to watch them just five months later. They're worthy movies not only because they have something to say (that has too much of a tweezery sound), but because they're satisfying cinematic experiences.

We also caught up with the filmmakers for a Los Angeles Times story about the "Tillman" and "Restrepo" documentaries, and our interviews with them only reinforced our feelings about the films.

"Most of documentaries about Iraq and Afghanistan so far have been political polemics, and I think the public is exhausted by them," Junger says. "What our films are trying to do is to make an investigation into some very necessary topics."

Indeed, neither movie seeks to take sides but rather aims to show the ambiguous and difficult circumstances of the war in Afghanistan. Of course, it's impossible to completely avoid ideology and political messaging, and "Tillman" in particular wades into political waters as it condemns the U.S. Defense Department for conspiring to spin the circumstances of Tillman's death for the sake of recruiting more soldiers (which is probably why the film has caught the attention of Michael Moore, who's called it "one of the most important movies you'll ever see about the U.S. military.")

Bar-Lev has split feelings about his movie's underlying themes. "I don't think of it as an antiwar film. I want people on the right and left to be open to engaging with it," he says. "I did want to make a film that said we should be honest about war and not cloak it in Hollywood mythology."

-- Steven Zeitchik



Casualties seen and unseen

Has someone finally made a good movie about the war in Afghanistan?

Michael Moore loves the Pat Tillman documentary, but will Middle America?

Top photo: A scene from "Restrepo." Credit: National Geographic. Bottom photo: Pat Tillman. Credit: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (5)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Did you 'promote' Brothers At War? A really great documentary. These are pretty much anti-war, let's surrender to the terror of Taliban, Islamic facism, Communism, and our own leftist "co-exist" under their rule dogma. Not going & I don't believe you. Politics... always.

God Bless Pat Tillman and all of our Hero's in the U.S. Military.

That said, if Michael Moore claims it is the most important U.S. Military film, I doubt it does our soldiers any justice. The thought of that sub-human scum even mentioning the name Pat Tillman makes me sick!

Honestly, if producers of movies that want to sell a certain ideological viewpoint were smart, they would keep said movies as far away from this blog and other likewise liberal establishments. It completely gives away the secret of the slant these movies have. If it were true that these movies rose above politics or were devoid of politics, this blog wouldn't touch it, like Brothers at War referenced by HollywoodRon. People sought out that movie simply because there were no liberal media establishments that featured it and most, including this blog, I believe, ignored it completely.

Go figure, another Anti War movie at a time when they have all bombed at the box office and Hollywood and the Leftist community still doesn’t' "Get It".

To disgrace Pat Tillman by trying to imply he read Noam Chomsky and was somehow influenced it is a joke. Most military minded people read the books of their enemies to gain the mindset of their Opponents. Patton read Rommel’s books before he entered Tunisia and I would more believe that Pat Tillman read Chomsky to see how the Left think.

Good Luck trying to sell this to "Fly Over Country" as your Pretender in Chief calls it.

I admire Pat Tillman for giving up a succesful NFL career and joining the Army. However, why does he rate to get a movie made about his life and death in the war? I've been in the Marines for 20 years, been to Iraq and Afghanistan, and seen many young men and women get hurt or killed. Where's their movie? How about making a movie about the guys that are missing limbs or burned beyond all recognition? How about making a movie about how their families have suffered? Anyways, lets be honest, if this had happened to just some other no-name grunt, there wouldn't have been such an uproar about it. No movie, no investigation. I'm sure Pat's in heaven, guarding the pearly gates saying, "enough already, let it go".


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