I am pretty handy, if not entirely comfortable, with guns. If you need some soda cans knocked off a fence, I’m your gal. I’m also weirdly good at skeet shooting, so I can help out if you’re ever menaced by discs of clay. Granted, none of the things I shoot fire back. That’s not the case in “Korengal.”
To wildly simplify the state of modern documentary filmmaking, there are two categories: issue documentaries, which come with some call to action, and observational documentaries, which ask you to stand back and take in a story (through the filter of the filmmaker’s eyes and choices, of course). “Korengal,” the not-really-sequel (it’s more of a companion piece) to “Restrepo,” the phenomenal 2010 documentary that followed a single platoon for a year in Afghanistan, falls into the latter.
There’s no commentary on why U.S. soldiers are in Afghanistan or whether they should be. “Korengal” is concerned with these guys, at this place, and what happens to them. And what happens to them is they get shot at a lot. Like, multiple times a day.
Now, I have no idea how I’d react in combat, but judging from what my brain was telling these guys to do, it would involve a lot of crying, cowering and bargaining with God. These guys, they fire back. “Korengal,” like “Restrepo,” makes it so realistically clear that war is about guys trying to kill other guys while not getting killed themselves.
In narrative films, war is so often about big ideas or larger causes, all of which can and have been debated regarding our role in Afghanistan. Those debates happen elsewhere, though — in comfortable, air-conditioned rooms by men in suits who sleep on mattresses when they’re done making decisions. “Korengal” shows, without ever explicitly saying it, that the big ideas don’t matter much when someone is trying to kill you and your friends on a daily basis.
Very few of us will ever be in a live combat situation, unless we make the mistake of going to the mall or to school or to work or to the movies or to a restaurant on the day a nutcase with an automatic weapon decides he’s having a bad day. “Korengal” will be as close to war as we get, and that’s partly because it doesn’t ask any of the philosophical questions that necessarily surround armed conflict. It doesn’t show glory or spectacular bouts of heroism, captured in slow motion through beautifully filtered light. It just shows us what happens when you’re trying your best not to die.
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