Dir: Brian De Palma, US, 2007. 90mins
Designed to resemble an American's soldier video blog from Iraq , with additional footage from a French-language pseudo-documentary, YouTube clips and reports from local TV crews, Brian de Palma's attempt to reveal some of the expurgated truth behind the media coverage of the war in Iraq ultimately backfires on him. The evidence of a well-honed professional sensibility behind the camera is too obvious to make its home-made feel actually believable.
Redacted (which has the same sense as 'edited') is, as it turns out, is a traditional, well-intentioned anti-war movie. On the one hand it deals with a highly-chraged and topical subject matter in a way that will be applauded by many, but on the other it has little new to say.
Predictions are bound to be unreliable, but festivals will certainly find Redacted a worthy addition to their programs. Beyond that however, the film risks falling in-between categories, not quite an art film nor really a mass entertainment item. Magnolia Pictures are banking on a wider appeal to a European audience rather than a US one, and it will be part of a slew of Iraq-themed films emerging from the US this Fall.
Landing up with a freshly recruited platoon preparing for action at their American base, de Palma introduces each one of its members in an orderly fashion. There is Salazar (Izzy Diaz), the eager, wide-eyed innocent who dreams of becoming a filmmaker and whose prying camcorder records everything for posterity. Then there is the representative of good old American stock, Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney), as law-abiding as his name would suggest.
Bespectacled Blix (Kel O'Neill) always has his nose always in books and bullish redneck Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) is in for a good time. Flake (Patrick Carroll) is an out-and-out psychopath, the first one to shoot and kill when the moment comes (he later complains it has not given him the rush he anticipated). Their presence in Iraq proceeds by the book as well, with scenes of heavily armoured vehicles facing kids kicking a ball around. Everyday routines at checkpoints are invasive and degrading.
It is only a matter of time before the tragedy erupts, followed by swift local retaliation. An investigation committee is unwilling toreview any seriously incriminating evidence against the suspects. The most shocking images of the entire film come at the very end, in an epilogue consisting of actual stills from the war, far more disturbing than anything shown in the preceding fiction.
Intended as a laudably fierce indictment of American presence in yet another part of the world where no one seems to want them, de Palma's script evolves around a first page story that has already resonated around the world. GIs broke into a private home in Samarra, raped, shot to death and set on fire a 14 year-old girl and then proceeded to kill the rest of the family as well.
To De Palma's credit, the opening titles states clearly that his film is purely fictional and any relation to the event itself (or the characters who took part in it) is coincidental and unintentional. If anything, his film is not supposed to deal with the act itself, but to reveal the stories behind the story; all the irrelevant or unmentionable details intentionally or negligently cut out (or as the film's title defines it, redacted) from the general picture the international media presents to the world.
These particular American soldiers haven't a clue about what they are supposed to be doing in Iraq; some even suspect it's their government's way of getting rid of them. If de Palma's assumption is that this kind of questioning attitude may help stop the war, then all the more strength to him. He felt the same about Vietnam, which he dramatised in Casualties of War in 1989.
There is nothing innovative about Redactive, either in form or in content. Making fiction look like documentary is an old ploy, the only difference being that grainy 16 mm has been now replaced by the improved quality the digital footage. And whatever is left of the pretence that this is anything less than fiction disintegrates, once de Palma's characters embark on Off-Broadway type speeches.
As for the Handel and Puccini excerpts on the soundtrack, they are over-familiar. It's well shot (in HD) and expertly edited; there's no shaky camera or hesitant cuts here, for all its amateur aesthetic.
The Film Farm
Brian de Palma
Daniel Stewart Sherman