| November 17, 2007

Redacted, the Golden Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival and a polarizing selection at several other major festivals this fall is the latest film by iconoclastic director Brian De Palma. It revisits territory he once explored in the Vietnam War picture Casualties of War–the psychological horror of war on its participants and the evisceration of the innocents caught in the conflict when soldiers snap from the pressure of combat.
Redacted is gaining momentum more these days for the polemic reaction it incites in the audiences that view it. It’s been some time since I’ve witnessed a film’s reception that’s inspired such intense arguments. I applaud that end result of this film, though I must be honest and admit that I wish the debate were over a more well made film.
De Palma’s impetus for this film lies right in its title. He feels that the truth about the Iraq War has been kept from the American public. It’s been redacted on the nightly news, in your morning paper and on the web, not to mention your local Cineplex. De Palma sets out to confront our sensibilities and reveal the curtain on the raw, uncensored images we are afraid to gaze upon the war. It’s a mission into the furious and violent side of our collective impotence over the war and its effect on our treasured sense of imperial morality.
These are fabulous themes and imperatives. They mean to provoke insights about our motives at this stage of the conflict and the lingering effects our actions, as individuals and a nation, have made on the foreign people and culture we claim to be liberating. Even De Palma’s construct for the film is noble. A noted formalist, De Palma eschews the usual cinematic conventions he’s known for employing so deftly in his films and constructs a array of so called “found” footage (though it’s all constructed and fictional)–handheld cameras, video blog postings, websites, surveillance cameras and this strange mock French documentary. It’s intended as a tour through new media, and often the sources by which we gain our most unfiltered news and reportage.
This is all the good, or rather, the respectable that I see in Redacted. Respect is a much better word. I have respect for what De Palma is reaching for with this picture. He does not shy away from the broadside he unleashes on the growing American moral paralysis in regards to the war in Iraq. That takes guts, which is rarely seen these days in popular art. Redacted is an extremely angry, raw, unapologetic and disruptive document.
Unfortunately, at the heart of Redacted, the issues, is a poorly made film that undermines the overall impact of the picture and the issues it raises. De Palma sees fit to run out every shop worn, cinematic “platoon at war” story and character cliché on record. The film’s characters range from: the bookish nerd, the earnest boy-scout, the ignorant brute, the malevolent would be socio-path and the minority character with a plan to raise his station in life when he gets home. It’s tiresome and irresponsible filmmaking from such a talented filmmaker. De Palma crafted the script and unfortunately it is one of the weakest elements of the film. Characters lack any ambiguity, or moral conflict. They are walking and talking debates colliding against each other in rigid dramatic scenes that offer little or room for the audience to connect with anyone in the film–good or bad.
In addition the acting is completely substandard. It never rises above movie of the week territory. Also, because of the “found footage’ construct of the piece, all sense of emotional connection to anything in the story–character or event–is blocked. It makes for a strangely cold, bitter film on certain levels that’s so emotionally bleak and without balance that it ultimately corrupts the impact of its arguments. By the time you reach the penultimate act of the story, which is the rape and brutal murder of a young girl by sadistic and drunk American soldiers, you feel so brutalized and misused that the film’s intent with it–to bring you to this truthful horror of war and therefore some sense of insight about the war itself and our role in it–is completely lost.
Redacted is Brian De Palma’s attempt to unsettle and shock American audience into addressing the Iraq War at its most honest and raw levels. It’s a furious attempt by him to rattle the collective cage and break those that view it from the moral impotence he believes they’re locked in. Unfortunately it’s a heavy handed, clumsy and ultimately impenetrable piece of cinematic storytelling. I applaud the conviction De Palma brings to this work. I respect him for the issues he addresses. I just wish he had made a movie worth watching in the process.

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