Running Time 91 minutes
Written and directed by Brian De Palma
Starring Kel O’Neill, Ty Jones, Mike Figueroa
To the growing gridlock of depressing movies about the war in Iraq that nobody wants to see, you can add Brian De Palma’s grim, despicable Redacted. The pinpoint of a plot centers on four enraged, frustrated and oversexed American soldiers in Samarra who break into a private home under the pretense of searching for “weapons of mass destruction.” Instead, they rape and murder an innocent 14-year-old civilian while her little sister and grandmother are forced to watch, then set her on fire before they gun down the whole family. American atrocities are shocking and unacceptable under any circumstances, but Redacted is preceded by a disclaimer declaring it is a work of fiction based on rumors. It drives a nail in its own coffin before it even begins.
To forge an air of authenticity, the movie is designed to resemble a soldier’s video blog, with additional footage from a French pseudo-documentary, YouTube clips, field reports from TV reporters and home movies that roll and swim around in a dreadful, dizzying swirl of nausea. Despite actors encouraged to look like they’re improvising and close-ups of ants eating a struggling beach scorpion, Mr. De Palma is, for better or worse, too aware of the camera to make anything look like true cinéma vérité, so the conceit of revealing the pointless horrors of war through video diaries, surveillance footage and security cameras really backfires badly. Nothing looks natural or unplanned, just amateurish. Redacted (with the same connotation as “edited”) is nothing more than a traditional, well-intentioned but totally forgettable antiwar movie. The subject is repellent and highly charged, but the movie is so phony that it is unlikely to cause much of a stir among either liberals or conservatives. It does introduce a platoon of jerks and misfits who illustrate the bottom-rung quality of what makes up today’s military, with competent but routine performances enacting every cliché in the book: the dope with the camcorder, the law-abiding all-American, the bookworm, the bullish redneck and the bona fide psychopath. All they do is smoke dope, read pornography and kill a pregnant woman who tries to cross a military checkpoint because she’s in labor and searching for a hospital. The shoot-and-kill mania and the retaliation that follows are predictable.
Intended as a strong indictment of the U.S. presence in a part of the world where we are despised and unwanted; where the allies are frightened, confused and inexperienced; and where the enemy is everything that walks, Mr. De Palma’s screenplay claims to evolve around a story that resonated internationally. But where is the proof? A subsequent investigation refuses to review evidence. The suspects walk away, although it is obvious that at least one of them will suffer psychological damage for the rest of his life. Any liberal attempts to get to the truth are thwarted. I don’t mind stacking the cards against the imperial Bush administration, but the power and persuasion of Mr. De Palma’s case is diluted by his meek declaration that any relation to reality in this film is unintentional and purely coincidental. In the aftermath of illegal government-sanctioned tortures of U.S. prisoners that have smeared our integrity abroad and mocked our Constitution at home, I approve of movies that criticize the ethics of what America has become under the current regime. But where is the balance? Questioning the morality of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran fought by clueless boys in uniform who don’t know what they’re doing there in the first place is one thing, but making up atrocities to show the U.S. army as a gang of louts and criminals is a pretty low goal signifying nothing, if you ask me.