(USA/Canada - 2007)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Izzy Diaz, Patrick Carroll, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Rob Devaney, Kel O'Neill, Ty Jones, Mike Figueroa
Genre: Drama/War
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Brian De Palma
Cinematography: Jonathon Cliff
Composer: -

Rebounding from the commercial doldrums that have plagued his work since the brilliant Carlito’s Way with Femme Fatale, among the best of his sexy voyeuristic thrillers, Brian De Palma seemed as though he might be back on course with the promising Toyer forthcoming. Stranded in production hell unable to find a time when he and acting heavyweights Juliette Binoche and Colin Firth were all available to film, he settled on a vehicle where stilted flyweight Josh Hartnett plays a boxer turned detective. His next project was (and once again is) set to be Capone Rising, a prequel to his biggest commercial success The Untouchables, which is also doubtful to approach the peak of his art. Though it almost has to be better than The Black Dahlia, Untouchables is more the favorite of his non fans than the hardcores, who prefer Scarface and Carlito’s Way when he’s in gangster mode and the visual oriented thrillers such as Dressed to Kill and Blow Out when he’s not.

Those wondering when De Palma would return to classic form may be pleased by Redacted, certainly if by classic form they mean the parodic spirit of his early New York independents Greetings and Hi, Mom! and his later film within a film indy Home Movies combined with a reworking of Casualties of War. Ever the cinephile, De Palma found inspiration viewing the latest work of one of the new masters, Bruno Dumont’s Flanders at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, and proceeded to combine modern technology with bits and pieces of his filmography to create a work that’s timely, original, and the most experimental of his career.

Disenchanted by the way the mainstream media’s quest to make news profitable misrepresents the Iraq war to favor American ideals, values, reasoning, excuses, and lies, whatever ruffles the least feathers, upsets the fewest stomachs, and most importantly keeps the sponsorship $ pouring in, Redacted is in good part De Palma retracing his steps toward discovering the truth. With the decrease in the size and price of video cameras and people carrying still cameras like never before due to being included in the latest gadgets, this war has been documented more than any other, but where can you find the footage?

Redacted isn’t about the difference between Fox “News” and CNN, Brian De Palma instead came to his conclusions through all types of alternative media: reading websites and blogs, watching everything from documentaries in the theater to videos on You Tube. His movie is primarily about the complicity of the mainstream media in suppressing the information that would horrify the American public to the point they’d take to the streets and demand an end to the war, as they increasingly did during Vietnam. It’s not about disgusting you with a blitzkrieg of carnage though, but rather opening the audience’s eyes by combining material from all these sources to create a different and more complete picture of U.S. occupation. Relying more heavily on a fictitious video diary by soldier Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) and a faux documentary De Palma also made but credits to fictitious French filmmakers than facsimile web sites and web videos, Redacted may not be a pleasant viewing experience but is far more lively and intriguing one than it may sound.

The movie plays a bit awkwardly due to there being so many layers to what De Palma is trying to accomplish that they sometimes seem at war. Redacted is kind of an odd mix of cinema verite documentary, reality show, and scattershot comedy. There’s a layer of truth, the lack thereof from the mainstream media prompting De Palma to make the film. However, there are several layers of deception, the most obvious of which is the true story of the Mahmudiyah killings has been edited to make it suitable for release by expunging sensitive info, hence the film’s title. Though it’s based on a true story, Redacted isn’t a documentary, as everything was fictionalized to avoid rights hangups and potential lawsuits. De Palma was told by lawyers from HDNet, the TV station launched by Redacted’s producer Mark Cuban, he wasn’t allowed to refer to the real event in any way. He succeeded well enough in that regard, but production company Magnolia Pictures redacted his closing photographic montage of real war photos De Palma found on the internet, removing some (which in some cases were then replaced by staged versions) and forcing ridiculous black bars over the identifying facial features of the rest. Though De Palma was none too happy about his only real footage being disemboweled, it actually furthers his point that all the war coverage has been censored, sanitized, whitewashed, and/or misrepresented.

Fact and fiction aren’t so much the point of Redacted as questioning notions of objective and subjective reportage. De Palma makes it plain that his film isn’t the truth either, that lies in scattered bits and pieces, it’s something you come to on your own through culling various sources rather than blindly trusting any specific one. The whole fact vs. fiction argument is played ironically, so the movie becomes something of a Greetings and Hi, Mom! style parody except taking place on the battlefield. For instance, De Palma goes beyond ironic counterpoint, pairing carnage with classical orchestrations to show the pretentiousness and pomposity of the “French documentary”. De Palma depicts the human condition, but he does so in the wise guy mode of Greetings and Hi, Mom!, finding twisted humor that makes it bearable through the absurdity of the times. Scenes such as choosing the documents to seize when they are written in a language you can’t understand illustrate the folly of the occupation in a nutshell.

Voyeurism is a key to almost every De Palma film, implicating the audience as well as himself for their fascination with watching sex and violence. We get both here, though De Palma is at his most restrained during the rape of the teenage girl, which takes place off screen with the audience essentially seeing nothing beyond flickering lights. This point is, in itself, ironic as on one hand the media is condemned for refusing to provide the necessary footage, but on the other we are indicted for desiring to view it.

Role playing provides yet another layer. The acting from the unknown actors that provides some legitimacy to the illusion what we are seeing is real will be criticized as unprofessional. However, the self-consciousness of the performances mirrors the deception of reality shows and more importantly the interviews of the troops we see on TV. Once a person knows they’re being filmed they start putting on a performance. Sometimes they suppress the truth by hiding behind the cliches, regurgitating talking points without conviction. Other times they try to live up to the myth of what a soldier is, which is largely derived from the Hollywood movies they’ve seen. De Palma isn’t trying to elicit bogus award winning performances, he’s illustrating that when the characters strive to live up to their ideal conception of a soldier, whether ideal or fictional, the result, whether intentional or unintentional, is a deceptive portrait of reality that clouds the picture.

The idea Brian De Palma hates the soldiers is patently ridiculous. People who are pro soldier want to get them home to their families, or at least stationed in a friendly area, while those who don’t care about them want to keep them indefinitely embedded, having chances to die for their country 24/7/365. What’s more realistic, US soldiers dying now (or later from exposure to various toxins) due to being marooned in hostile territory or getting killed because Bin Ladin and co. are converting those who previously chose peaceful coexistence into Johnny Jihads by renting theaters and handing out free tickets to Redacted?

Politics aside, Redacted isn’t populated by a bunch of filthy pigs who aren’t worth dignifying by cleaning their stalls. They are more toward the soldier cliches that have been around for ages, with everyone from Lewis Milestone to Steven Spielberg to John Milius contributing. Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney) is the soldier with a conscience. He can’t believe his fellow GIs would consider doing awful things he never would such as rape an innocent teen. He figures they are just letting off steam with some sick jokes, it’s their way of dealing with yet another death of one of their own. When he realizes they are considering it he figures if he goes along he can pounce on an opportune moment of fear to talk them out of it. Gabe Blix (Kel O’Neill) is the intelligent soldier, spending all his free time reading. He doesn’t bother anyone and also strongly believes in doing the right thing, but he’s passive and unimposing. He’s smart enough to not take on an offensive lineman type who’d be glad to eat him for a midnight snack. He may be a disappointment for predictably failing to be dynamic and commanding enough to prevent the tragedy, but even though he never rises to the top he’s the only one who consistently keeps his head above water, and there’s something to be said for that. The love of voluble Master Sergeant James Sweet (Ty Jones) may be tough, but he keeps everyone alive and out of trouble. The problems start in his absence, as lacking an authority figure to keep the grunts in line the group dynamic changes to a situation where the meanest, toughest, and craziest get their way because no one above them is paying attention and the other members of Alfa Company aren’t going to duke it out with them.

Angel Salazar, who similar to most soldiers enlisted because he needed something from the government, believes his video combined with the G1 Bill will open up the door to the cinematic education he was previously denied. He acts as De Palma’s eyes, recalling Keith Gordon’s character in Home Movies, another De Palma film within a film where the main character spent all his time recording the actions of those around him. No one accused De Palma of hating Gordon’s character, and it’s not because De Palma more affinity for him than Salazar, actually Gordon’s character is more comical and ridiculous. It’s not because they haven’t seen Home Movies, as while that’s certainly the case they haven’t bothered to watch Redacted either. There’s simply no point in concocting the anti Home Movies story since there’s no political gain in attempting to discredit Home Movies.

There are more soldiers you wouldn’t rush to condemn to the fires of hell. The two bad ones just stand out more. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) is fittingly a Big Fat Idiot. Similar to his partner in crime, Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll) is a sexually repressed racist redneck. These thugs are in part a comment upon the futility of the US government’s policy of expunging crime if you’ll instead serve your time in the military. What’s good for getting some much needed volunteers doesn’t necessarily help win the hearts and minds of the occupied country, if that was ever a desire in the first place.

Redacted is far closer to a remake of De Palma’s own Vietnam War tragedy Casualties of War than Paul Schrader’s latest The Walker is of his own American Gigolo. Redacted has more immediacy and urgency for being released in the midst of the war rather than a decade and a half after it’s conclusion. Casualties of War is easier to watch, largely due to Michael J. Fox presenting a strong heart to the film for the audience to root for. Redacted is far angrier, fueled by disgust and outrage.

Depicting the futility of occupation as a culture clash that will only bring tragedy is far more a theme in Redacted than Casualties of War. Citizens resent having to be stopped every day and searched. Some people with power invariably abuse it. A tremendous amount of misunderstanding occurs due to neither side being able to understand the other’s language, much less knowing their customs and respecting their way of life. An adversarial relationship quickly develops with some factions on both sides continually escalating the conflict by avenging incidents. Thematically, Redacted could just as easily be about the British, French, Russian, Persian, Roman, or Mongol empires, but to its credit it doesn’t hide from controversy by comfortably couching its criticism in a period piece.



* Copyright 2007 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *