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‘Taking Fire’ review: Worthy return to Afghanistan’s Korengal

Discovery Channel's

Discovery Channel's "Taking Fire" premieres Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, at 10 p.m. Credit: Discovery Channel


WHEN | WHERE Premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Discovery.


WHAT IT’S ABOUT In 2010, some soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division were deployed to the remote Korengal Valley in northeastern Afghanistan — six miles long, a half-mile wide, and the site of fierce fighting that had led to its nickname, the Valley of Death. Some of these soldiers brought handheld cameras, or helmet cams, with them, and the footage collected serves as the basis for this five-part series. Among the soldiers profiled and who did much of the filming: JJ McCool, Kyle Petry, Ken Shriver and Kyle Boucher.

MY SAY Most Americans got their first long look at the Korengal Valley in the 2010 film “Restrepo,” Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s wrenching close-up of the Second Platoon, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. This close-up is different, but only slightly. The mountainsides appear more barren, the forests largely gone. Otherwise, the same young faces — this time with different names — are going into battle. Enemy fire still arrives suddenly out of nowhere. Bullets slice the air. They ping off metal. You hope — or pray — they don’t hit flesh.

“Restrepo” was filmed in 2007, this in 2010, but the outcome remained the same. U.S. forces pulled out at the end of that year. Nearly 50 U.S. soldiers lost their lives in operations there over the years. Will any of those soldiers you meet over these five hours become part of that statistic? It’s a sobering thought that adds weight — and real melancholy — to this short series. You won’t have long to wait for an answer.

Korengal Valley is now part of U.S. military history, but what makes this series so valuable is that it erases time and distance, and brings Korengal right up to your doorstep. Like “Restrepo” (and follow-up film “Korengal”), “Taking Fire” is about the confusion of battle, and often about the futility of battle in this particular place. But it’s also about the brotherhood forged — those relationships and bonds that are a little too deep for words, and which can be shattered in an instant.

In truth, the helmet cams don’t add all that much more than the handheld ones that Hetherington and Junger carried with them. The field of vision jumps sharply, violently, during enemy fire. You marvel, however, during those moments when the helmet cam is rock steady, and there are many such moments. McCool, Petry, Shriver and Boucher don’t talk much about their reasons for filming, but do appear to have been motivated by a sense of pride and a sense of posterity, too. It appears they succeeded.

BOTTOM LINE At least based on the first episode, which was made available for review, “Taking Fire” looks like it could almost be a worthy TV bookend to the 2010 big-screen documentary “Restrepo.”


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