December 29, 2007

Redacted review

Matt: Three and a half Stars

Length: 90min


Truth is the first casualty of war.

Précis: Brian De Palma hollers his anger at the Iraqi war and loses his voice somewhere in a hyperreal montage of mediums.

Review by Matt:

Veteran film maker Brian De Palma’s low-budget film Redacted is an anti-war movie for the 21st century. It tells the story of an appalling crime perpetrated by American soldiers in Iraq – the rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl and the murder of her family (a real event which occurred in March 2006). De Palma realizes his message rather uniquely, by assembling a variety of forms of media – a soldier’s hi-8 video diary; excerpts from a pretentious French documentary about checkpoint procedure; CCTV footage; internet postings by Islamic terrorists and everyday Americans; and Arabic television footage – and splicing them together to make a linear narrative. All the footage is artificial (excluding the final montage), although apparently most of it mirrors real discoverable footage about the events in the film. The result is a curious postmodern mélange. Not a documentary, but a cinematic opinion piece on the continuing Iraq conflict and the mixture of messages and media surrounding it.

The story follows a unit of men stationed in Iraq. Private Salazar runs his camera continuously, capturing his comrades and their experiences, hoping the resulting documentary will get him into film school. Beyond the casual chatter of the men, we’re privy to plenty of disturbing action: an IED explosion, a terrible shooting at a checkpoint, a raid on an Iraqi home, and of course, the actual violent attack on the girl victim and her family.

It’s not hard to see that De Palma is enraged about the war. The film is a brave attempt to inflame. Certainly the portrayal of American soldiers as xenophobic thugs marinated in whiskey is going to attract some ‘not supporting our troops’ accusations. Redacted’s plot also treads other themes that are bound to pique, such as the censorial nature of the military; in the film it is the decent soldiers whose motives are doubted when the crime is reported. Redacted also repeats the catchphrases of conservative ideologues in provocative contexts – particularly the accusation by a criminal soldier that his investigators’ actions are ‘supporting the terrorists’.

The word ‘redacted’ means ‘edited’ or ‘revised’ – a suggestion that the truth about the war is being sanitized before it reaches us. De Palma’s forceful style is an angry reaction to this. He clubs us with a counter message, trying to shock us with the truth. The film thrusts the viewers into the graphic and violent calamities of Iraq; sometimes the horror is shoved at you unless you look away. It’s as if De Palma sees himself as ripping away a blindfold and yelling ‘You want to believe those lies? Well this is the truth!’

Unfortunately Redacted’s radicalism and its messages are frustrated by the delivery. Too much of the film seems unconvincing and fails to resonate at a deeper and more human level. The soldiers come across as mostly one-dimensional sketches; a picture of men disenchanted and angry at the daily danger, the sense of purposelessness, and the perceived hostility of the Iraqis. The connection between the war and the shocking crime is left unexamined – the perpetrators in Redacted were clearly craven brutes before they reached this hell. Some of the realism also leaches away through the acting (all by small time actors) and the script, which sometimes have a simulated quality. The most powerful moment of the film is a candid speech delivered by a tormented officer to his friends which demystifies the simple picture of ‘army officer as hero’. One feels that if De Palma had worked more on this level, the film would have worked better.

It is interesting that Redacted is also about perspectives, simulation and truth. The film’s own fractured form symbolises the multitude of messages in the mass media, which blur reality. Yet, as Redacted mimics this swamp of simulacra, its own messages and veracity are diluted. Ironically, the one only real part of the film – a photographic montage of real-life bodies of civilian victims from the war – was ‘redacted’ by Magnolia Pictures to obscure the victims’ faces (apparently a source of ongoing conflict between De Palma and the studio).

Redacted is an intriguing but often uncomfortable cinema experience. It’s sometimes powerful and it’s passionately determined to reveal the realities of war, violence and American morality. With the tragedy in Iraq so extreme and the need for action and compassion so urgent, it is unfortunate that the messages in Redacted are cast waywardly (estimates and methodologies vary but it is clear that, along with many soldiers, many thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed by violence since he 2003 invasion – see the Lancet study, or the Iraqi Body Count site). Having said that, perhaps there are viewers out there for whom Redacted will become the experience that suddenly opens their eyes and encourages a new perspective. That in itself is worth so much.


One comment

  1. I can see what he was trying to do, but I just found this movie too gross and painful. I think De Palma was really trying to assault the audience. I’d only give it 2.5.

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