2 In 1: Restrepo And Exit Through The Gift Shop.

There's really only one thing connecting these two movies: they're critically acclaimed documentaries from this year. I'm sure I can think of something silly if I dig deep (perhaps that both are docs that will mess with your head), but I'm too lazy for that. So without further ado, I'll just get into them in the order I watched them.


I had to force myself to watch this, as I knew it was going to be a tough watch. I don't watch documentaries or war films on a regular basis, so it would be hard on that front, but of course, I knew the subject material was going to be really rough and upsetting. And it was. This documentary follows a year in the life of the Second Platoon in Afghanistan's most dangerous valley. After the death of "Doc" Restrepo, the unit builds a new outpost (O.P.) in a strategic area and call it O.P. Restrepo after their fallen friend. The rest of the documentary details the unit's triumphs and failures at O.P. Restrepo and on the battlefield.

As I said, this was a tough film to watch as people were dying every 10-15 minutes. And this kind of brings in my biggest issue with the documentary. There are constantly new people showing up in the documentary that it starts becoming difficult differentiating between who is who. There is a main cast of people it focuses on--primarily in the 'interviews' that take place after-the-fact. But while in the valley, there were new people showing up all the time, throughout the entire documentary, and it never explains where these people are coming from. Were they there the whole time and you're just now showing them? Are they new recruits? What's going on?

Also, if the film really wanted to use pathos on its audience, it could have done a lot more. I mean, there's a lot of pathos there, but when it mentions people who have died, my only reaction was "... who was that?" The way they're talked about, it's as if we'd been following them the whole time, but we haven't. If the filmmakers wanted the pain of war to hit hard, then they needed to show these people, let us get to know them so then when they died, we have a stronger reaction of "Holy crap, war totally sucks." We still get that from the film, but it's not as strong of a message as it could have been.

Or was that really the message? There were a few instances where I couldn't tell if this was a pro- or anti-war film. A good handful of the soldiers, despite hating it there, were a bit gun- and kill-happy. There's a particular scene I remember where the soldiers are celebrating because they shot up a guy and his limbs, apparently, started flying everywhere. And they were ecstatic about this. They were elated that they not only killed but supposedly mutilated another human being. Then there was a time when the main soldier guy (I can't remember his name, sorry) was upset that he had accidentally killed innocents in a bombing, but his reaction, despite being upset, was basically "well, it was their fault for living among terrorists. Moving on." Maybe that was his way of rationalizing the event so to not be driven mad, but it just feels so... wrong.

Because of these kinds of things, I wasn't sure whether the film was trying to show me the detriments of war and how it affects its soldiers or how, if it weren't for these soldiers and O.P. Restrepo, that section of Afghanistan would be an even worse hellhole than it is (thus showing the benefits of war). So I guess thematically and emotionally, the film could have been done stronger. Or maybe the point was to show the morally gray area that war resides in, how it can do both good and bad, how it affects all sides.

Regardless, it was still a powerful film. The highlight is the Mission Rock Avalanche segment near the end. That whole part of the film was very tense where they just explain (instead of show) how things started going wrong, how one guy in particular got shot up and nearly died, and how close everyone really came to dying (though a couple did). But then it goes and shows parts, and there's a very real moment (I know that's kinda weird to say for a documentary) where this soldier just loses it emotionally and breaks down when he sees one of his fallen comrades. On the whole, if you're into intense documentaries and/or you like to subject of war, then this is definitely a film to check out.

A Keanu 'Whoa'

Exit Through The Gift Shop.

This movie made my head hurt. It's a documentary directed by a street artist (Banksy) about a Frenchman (Thierry Guetta) who starts making a documentary about street artists--including Banksy--but then becomes a street artist himself, only to have Banksy take over his documentary and change the subject of said documentary around. And in the end, it's not even a certainty that any of this documentary is even true. It's basically as if Charlie Kaufman made a documentary.

Thierry Guetta is a total nutball dipshit, to put it nicely. He's introduced to us as a family man who carries around a video camera filming every second of his life, then stores the tapes away in containers never to view them. He's very slow and naive, unable to form coherent thoughts or sentences (even taking into account English isn't his first language) and unable to comprehend even the most common sense notions. And even if it weren't for the fact that every single person in the documentary tells you how insane and stupid Thierry appears to be, you'd still be able to tell that they didn't exactly like him. Hell, even his cousin won't talk to him anymore (according to the closing information, anyway).

Now that we have our main character, we're taken on a ride into the semi-illegal (they never say straight-up if it's illegal or not what they do--graffiti is illegal, but they don't exactly do "graffiti") world of street art. There are different kinds of street art, as well. There are those like Space Invader who put images of the Space Invader aliens up around cities. There are those like Shepard Fairey who put up giant sheets of Andre the Giant with "Obey" underneath (though he's moreso known now for his famous rendering of President Obama's portrait). And then there's Banksy, who is like the DaVinci of street artists, doing anything from wall paintings to restructuring a phone booth so that it looks completely bent over.

Then, about 2/3s into the documentary, everything turns around. We're introduced to Mr. Brainwash, who is Thierry's street artist persona. After Banksy sees how much of a failure Thierry is at filmmaking, he tells him to go try his hand at street art. So basically, after having years of observation hours, Thierry takes up his new moniker and rips off everybody he's watched in the past. He doesn't do anything new or exciting. In fact, he basically does one thing and copies it ad nauseum. And people eat it up.

This is where the message of the film comes in, though there could be many messages you could take from it. If you're looking at the whole documentary as true, then the film is a study on the idiocy of the mass population, the ridiculousness of modern art, and how a person can go from nothing to millionaire overnight if s/he knows how to play their cards just right. It isn't about talent, it's about a little luck and who you know. Or, if you look at the film as a total lie, it's just another work of art from Banksy, taking his street art from stationary pictures to moving ones; he takes something that is generally seen as normal--a documentary--and turns it on its side as an act of sociological study, much like his bent phone booth. He could be putting out something that he knows is completely ridiculous just to see how much people actually eat it up, much like the people as portrayed through those interested in Mr. Brainwash's art. Or it's just straight-up satire. Any way you look at it, it's incredibly meta, and in that regard, I like it.

Still, regardless of how you look at it, the movie is fascinating. It's either the most ridiculous or most genius documentary I've ever seen. It could be slightly pretentious depending on how you looked at it, but isn't all art? Art in and of itself is an overt act of self-expression that is put on display for all to question and ponder (as if it's important). That's pretty much pretentiousness right there. But I digress. If you're interested in the world of street artists and seeing who is quite possibly the daftest subject of a documentary ever (whether or not he actually exists as portrayed is another question), then this film is for you. It's certainly not boring.

A Keanu 'Whoa'


  1. Glad you liked Gift Shop, it's gonna be in my top ten of the year for sure.

  2. I love your way of rating :)

    I have restrepo on my shelf, just bought it last week. your review intrigued me. A good appetizer to start the movie...but I won't watch it anytime soon.


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