As a means to make a political point, Brian De Palma’s Redacted certainly manages to convey the anger and rage he evidently feels about the conduct of the US troops in the war in Iraq, and the incredibly difficult position those troops are placed in by both circumstance and policy. It just doesn’t work very well as a film.
De Palma’s career is notable for several movies that contain viscerally powerful setups or performances, however his most successful work Scarface is now 25 years old. His more recent films include action and science fiction pieces, and most recently the critically panned The Black Dahlia. Unlike any film he (or anyone else for that matter) has made before, Redacted is a curious mixture of fact and imagination, and although it packs a visual and emotional punch it never quite reaches its potential.
De Palma has chosen for inspiration the 2006 real-life rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and killing of her family by US troops, for which several soldiers have been tried. Instead of standard documentary, however, he has imagined the circumstances that could lead idealistic young men to commit horrific acts, while at the same time targetting the ideals behind the war, the rules of engagement that control it, and the media’s reporting of it. Introduced to the audience through the handycam lens of one soldier recording a video diary, a group of young men who man a checkpoint in Samarra relax by reading porn, playing cards and drinking or doing drugs. They are oppressed by the heat and the smells, confused about their purpose and longing to return home. When a car fails to stop before the ‘trigger line’ and young Private Flake is obliged to shoot and kill its occupants, a chain of events is unleashed that will lead to the horrifying acts that inspired the film.
The build-up to the rape and murder scene is very powerful, with the palpable tension and extreme discomfort experienced by the soldiers brilliantly executed. De Palma manages to make the soldiers’ dilemma uncomfortably real, and both sides to his argument are established. His thesis is not anti-soldier, and hysterical politically based attacks on the film are unfounded. Rather, De Palma clearly feels empathy for his characters, trying his best to construct a reality that allows for such barbarity.
It is in the scenes that follow the central atrocity that Redacted falters – the performances of the young cast aren’t up to the scrutiny of the camera. Emotion-filled conversations with loved ones and the threats and counter-threats within the unit all require actors of considerable dramatic skill, and unfortunately their failure means the film loses much of its power.
De Palma uses a variety of ‘sources’ for his film, from the aforementioned video diary to a French news report, blog entries, internet video clips and footage from live video chats. The overall effect is impressive, lending a real sense of reality given the changing face of modern media.
Although the film certainly isn’t as effective as it could be, there is enough here to encourage real thought about the young boys who are placed in such difficult circumstances. It is a shame the performances don’t live up to the lofty goals of the writer/director.Rating: