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With: Izzy Diaz, Ty Jones, Patrick Carroll, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Kel O'Neill, Rob Devaney
Written by: Brian De Palma
Directed by: Brian De Palma
MPAA Rating: R for strong disturbing violent content including a rape, pervasive language and some sexual references/images
Running Time: 90
Date: 08/31/2007

Redacted (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

War Blames

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, and before he launched his successful series of tormented erotic thrillers, Brian De Palma made a handful of anti-establishment protest films (Hi, Mom! is one standout). Usually they involved voyeurs, Vietnam vets, conspiracies and radical, racially charged theater groups. Years later, this impulse remained to a certain extent, occurring in more polished, professional Hollywood products like Casualties of War and The Bonfire of the Vanities. But recently De Palma has become angry again, perhaps even enraged, and the result is Redacted. Centered around a single incident -- American soldiers raping a young girl during a war in a foreign country -- Redacted deliberately echoes Casualties of War, and the difference is startling. Casualties of War was a big-budget Hollywood film made with professional movie stars and telling a story that happened some twenty years earlier. Redacted is shot on video, with no stars, and takes place more or less right now.

The idea taps directly into De Palma's obsession with voyeurism and filmmaking; this new war has been extremely well documented through the availability of cheap, digital technology and distribution on the Web. Yet, as De Palma has asked in interviews, where is all the footage? Redacted suggests that, in the vain effort to keep the war "meaningful," the footage of what "really" happens has been suppressed, or redacted. As the film begins, an American soldier stationed in Iraq, Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), announces that he is going to film his experiences. He has been unable to get into film school (probably, the film suggests, because he's a Latino), so he hopes to use this footage to try again upon his return. Following the death of their beloved, fast-talking Master Sgt. James Sweet (Ty Jones), and during a drunken card game, two of his more volatile (white) buddies, Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll) and B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) announce that they're going to visit the home of a 15 year-old Iraqi girl and rape her; they've seen her every day going through their checkpoint. Two more soldiers buckle under peer pressure and become unexpectedly involved, the bookish Gabe Blix (Kel O'Neill) and a lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney). The rape itself is filmed in shadow and is over fairly quickly; the idea given more weight than the act.

De Palma crosses Salazar's footage with a fictitious, highly polished, French-produced documentary complete with baroque music. It also shows the soldiers in a fairly negative light, but it reveals the detached, superior quality of certain kinds of war coverage, as if it's a distasteful task. Surveillance footage and taped depositions fill in the blanks between Salazar's homemade footage and the slick documentary. Technically, Redacted couldn't be more pointed or effective, but emotionally, it may not have all the right stuff to convince viewers. The soldiers are more or less easily identifiable "types," seen in all kinds of earlier war movies, but it's possible that De Palma deliberately intended this echo effect. And there's also the strange factor -- discussed in Sam Mendes' Jarhead (2005) -- of modern soldiers imitating things they've seen in war movies, bringing the clichés full circle. (In 2001, I exchanged e-mails with a few soldiers about the clichés in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, and they confirmed this.) De Palma's script sounds authentic and the amateur players are convincing enough, but as Redacted goes on, some of the writing strays a little bit too much into the self-analytical. Characters begin to scrutinize their own actions, and it betrays the audience's ability to do the same.

Bill O'Reilly has famously slammed this film, more or less calling De Palma "anti-American" and stopping just short of calling him a traitor. (Typically, it appears that O'Reilly hasn't actually seen the film.) But he does bring up one interesting and worthwhile question: who wants to see this? Going to a theater and paying to see Redacted seems almost too quaint. Certainly the people who still support the war aren't going to bother. Rather, this is the type of thing that should be uploaded and e-mailed. Like De Palma's earlier films, it's a grass roots effort designed to raise hackles. I would probably forward it to friends, but only film buffs. As a political expose, it's not too surprising, nor is it something I want to see again anytime soon. But as part of De Palma's fascinating resume, it's a very exciting and bold entry.

Note: the film ends with a disturbing series of (apparently) real photographs taken in Iraq. Some have been censored with lines drawn through faces and eyes. It's not clear why these are here, or whether De Palma, the MPAA or the distributor ordered the censoring. But they're certainly disturbing.

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