For reasons of national security, portions of Judge Ben Saylor's latest review have been...shoot; what's another word for "removed," "excised," "edited"?
Truth is the first casualty of war.
The year 2007 saw several films that took a critical look at topical events. Gavin Hood's "Rendition" examined CIA-sanctioned kidnapping and torture of terror suspects. Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah" used the story of a soldier murdered upon returning from the war in Iraq to examine the toll that conflict has had on America. The drama "Grace Is Gone" starred John Cusack as a father grappling with how to tell his children that their mother has been killed in Iraq.
Veteran director Brian De Palma (Carrie) made an Iraq film of his own called Redacted. Inspired by real events, the fictional Redacted's storyline recalls one of De Palma's best films, 1989's Casualties of War. Unfortunately, the similarities end there, as while Casualties was a strongly written and acted drama, Redacted is a highly flawed film.
Facts of the Case
During the Iraq War, a group of soldiers stationed in Samarra man a checkpoint. But when one of the soldiers is killed by an IED, and an incident at the checkpoint leaves a pregnant Iraqi woman dead, soldiers Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and Flake (Patrick Carroll) decide to vent their feelings of frustration and aggression by raping a 15-year-old Iraqi woman. The two ultimately murder the woman and her family. McCoy (Rob Devaney), another soldier in the vicinity when the atrocities took place, wants to tell the truth about what happened in the woman's home, but will anyone believe him?
Brian De Palma set the bar pretty low for Redacted; his last movie was the 2006 train wreck The Black Dahlia. The fact that Redacted's basic plot mirrors that of the director's excellent Casualties of War only padded his new film's chances for success (or damned it because of the inevitable comparisons between the two that it draws). Unfortunately, while Redacted is mostly better than Dahlia, it's still not a good film.
Redacted's chief gimmick is one that is unfortunately gaining some traction in film these days; its narrative is supposed to have been cobbled together from various sources of existing footage: a video diary from Private Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz); a pretentious French documentary; surveillance camera tapes and various Internet videos. This is more or less the same conceit that Matt Reeves used for the recent Cloverfield, along with George A. Romero and his Diary of the Dead. It's not a coincidence that all three of these films are mediocre at best, as they all share several traits beyond the way they were put together (more on that later).
In a way, the found footage technique works for Redacted because it demonstrates that with only one or two perspectives on an event, complete understanding is not always possible because the truth is incomplete and/or too easy to manipulate. By showing different sources of footage that reflect a variety of viewpoints, De Palma allows the viewer to put together the picture of the horrible tragedy depicted in the film.
On the flip side, it also means that Redacted isn't much to look at. De Palma's strength has always been his high degree of skill with the camera; even his clunkers have bravura camerawork (Raising Cain and Snake Eyes among them). So for De Palma, going the found footage route, with all the cuts and shakiness that that entails, is kind of like boxing with one hand tied behind one's back. I realize that the point of Redacted is not to deliver powerful visuals but instead deliver a message, but it's worth noting.
Ultimately, Redacted's problem lies not with its filmmaking technique, but how the story is told. De Palma wrote the script himself, and he regrettably uses his characters as mouthpieces to deliver the movie's message. I mean, the movie's tagline (See The Charge) is paraphrased by one of the characters near the beginning of the film. Basically, when the soldiers aren't spewing unrealistic-sounding remarks at each other (one soldier calls another pair of soldiers "knuckleheads"), they're reiterating the significance of the story to us as bluntly as possible. "Subtle" has never been part of the De Palma lexicon, but that's not as much of a problem if the film in question is a trashy (but fun) Hitchcock rip-off, as opposed to what is supposed to be a hard-hitting, realistic drama about current events.
A lot of reviews have called Redacted out for its acting. Honestly, while none of the guys in this movie give first-class performances (and they are often laughably over-the-top), I think a lot of the blame here should be assigned to not only the poor lines they are given to deliver, but also the thinly sketched characters they're given to play. Like Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, gimmick overpowers character, so in the case of Redacted, all we're left with are tired archetypes (the heavy, the dim-witted follower of the heavy, the bookworm, etc.) that we learn almost nothing about.
Magnolia Home Entertainment's DVD of Redacted is pretty solid in the sound and video departments; the occasional graininess or less-than-stellar image quality is something I would chalk up to the found footage gimmick. For extras, we get a short episode of Higher Definition where De Palma discusses why he wanted to make the film and why he chose to make it the way he did. This is interesting but in eight and a half minutes doesn't cover a whole lot of ground. Next up is "Behind the Scenes," a near-five minute look at the filming of the movie's poker game scene. This is notable only because it features De Palma's beloved split-screen technique. By far the longest extra on the disc is "Refugee Interviews," a series of discussions with refugees from the conflicts in the Middle East that runs over an hour. Not surprisingly, their stories are sad and affecting. Lastly, there is a photo gallery of the shoot
Redacted is not a total failure on De Palma's part, and the director is to be commended for his attempt. However, his script is so didactic and overwrought that the power of the film is considerably diminished.
The court rules this film to be portions censored.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
• Higher Definition: Redacted Episode
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