"How's this for an opening salvo?" asks Dennis Lim in the Sundance Channel's blog, SUNfiltered. "Restrepo, the first documentary to screen at Sundance 2010, kicks off with a grunt's-eye view of being caught in a roadside-bomb explosion, and only gets more intense from there. In 2007 and 2008, journalist Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington made 10 trips to Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, a six-mile corridor near the Pakistan border, at the time the focal point of the fighting between US forces and the Taliban. A raw, often harrowing piece of frontline reportage, the film uses post-facto interviews with the soldiers to orient the viewers, but mostly, it opts for disorientation - for the surreal ground-level experience of combat, alternating between restless downtime and confusing firefights."
"Restrepo is a soldier," writes IFC's Alison Willmore, "Juan 'Doc' Restrepo, big personality, good with a guitar, died early on in the Second Platoon, Battle Company's 15-month tour in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, bleeding out from a gunshot wound while in the helicopter taking him toward medical help, leaving behind a flicker of self-shot video from the week before deployment. Restrepo... gets its title from him, but also from the scraggly bunker the platoon builds deeper into insurgent territory - Outpost Restrepo, named in honor of their fallen friend.... Pointing out that Restrepo is a nonfiction companion to The Hurt Locker is unavoidable - there are direct echoes in the way the men interact, in the generally apolitical tone, in the microfocus and structuring around timeframe instead of narrative arc, in the observation made by one man that getting shot at is an incomparable high. But I was also reminded of Kimberly Peirce's muddier, emotionally anguished Stop-Loss, in terms of the tenderness with which the soldiers are treated, and in the portrayal of their sense of brotherhood."
Noel Murray at the AV Club: "I've never seen combat footage like Junger and Hetherington get in Restrepo; it's raw, relentless, and made all the more unsettling by the fact that the soldiers can't see who's shooting at them.... It's an unsentimental but admiring look at a soldier's life, shot in one of the deadliest theaters of combat that's ever existed. Don't expect more than a token consideration of the Afghani point-of-view; though Junger and Hetherington make it clear that the Americans are pissing people off in the region as much as they're winning hearts and minds, they also sympathize with the frustration of soldiers who see their best friends die and get no thanks in return."
"With Restrepo, you just don't leave with a greater understanding of war or the men who sacrifice their lives and their peace of mind to fight it," blogs the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Its obscurity is a shortcoming, but it also feels like part of the point. Nearly every military person I've met has expressed to me the distance they feel between their service and most civilians. It's impossible to understand unless you're there. What's frustrating about this movie is that we're less there even than we appear to be."
Steven Zeitchik, blogging for the Los Angeles Times: "As they shoot, play, strategize, mourn and conduct, as honorably as they can, the dishonorable job of shooting and killing, the soldiers are nothing if not galvanizing, and the audience at the Eccles Theater Thursday night ('the largest we've ever had watching a documentary at one time,' festival director John Cooper noted wryly) responded in kind."
From Seth Abramovitch's quick FAQ for Movieline: "Does it live up to the buzz? Yes."
IndieWIRE interviews Hetherington and Junger.
See, too, "Into the Valley of Death," Junger and Hetherington's piece for the January 2008 issue of Vanity Fair.
Update, 1/23: AJ Schnack gathers a few more first impressions.