Less a film than a vehement anti-war tirade, "Redacted" poses a lot of valid questions and makes a lot of angry observations about the way the U.S. government has sent troops for tours of duty in the Middle East, namely Iraq, without providing them with more than vague blanket statements for what their mission is and what the goal is for a final outcome. In effect, the soldiers are left to fend for themselves as they emotionally rot away, a psychologically scarred shell of who they once were. With the lines between right and wrong progressively blurred for them, writer-director Brian De Palma (2006's "The Black Dahlia
") aims to expose that forms of terrorism run both ways in a war that has long since lost sight of the difference between "good guys" and "bad guys."
Loosely based on actual events that occurred in the Iraqi city of Samarra in 2006, De Palma uses fake documentary footage, digital cameras, download feeds and webcams to paint a stark picture of a U.S. Army squad stationed with checkpoint duty who take part in the rape of a helpless 15-year-old Iraqi girl and the cold-blooded murders of her and most of her family. As McCoy (Rob Devaney), an unwanted bystander of the crime, grapples with exposing the actions of his mates Flake (Patrick Carroll) and Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) at the risk of being viewed as a traitor, aspiring film student Salazar (Izzy Diaz) continues to record their unraveling lives and psyches on tape. The U.S. officials, meanwhile, want nothing more than to sweep it under the rug and pretend no wrongdoings have been committed. When McCoy returns to his wife and friends back home, he is a destroyed man unable to come to grips with the unspeakable death and destruction he has witnessed. And what was it all for?
"Redacted" is a project that filmmaker Brian De Palma was clearly driven to make out of the anger and betrayal he has felt over our current situation in Iraq. The passion he feels for the topic drips off the screen as he refuses to turn a blinking eye away from the violent atrocities being perpetrated on both sides. To him, no one is innocent, and this viewpoint has landed him in a thicket of controversy with media guys such as political commentator Bill O'Reilly accusing De Palma of being anti-American. Admittedly, there are times during "Redacted" when it sure seems that way. The majority of the characters are portrayed as obnoxious alpha-males who get off in one way or another on the violence they inflict, and then laugh about it afterwards. Perhaps the events De Palma details are tough to take because Americans are so used to seeing themselves depicted as saints, the cost of their lives at a value exponentially higher than that of foreigners. Whatever the case may be, the central indictment at the heart of the picture is not against U.S. troops, but against an administration that has blindly sacrificed them in the face of stunning ineptitude.
Indeed, "Redacted" is a brave and daring attempt to open eyes that have remained shut for too long. Still, the film should be viewed on the same merits as any other film is, and this one loses its way in heavy-handed pretentiousness. The faux news reports interspersed throughout the narrative are obvious and amateurish. The flashes of extreme violenceone character explodes, another is beheadedtiptoe the line of exploitation. The performances are either too wooden or premeditated to come off as authentic, which is disastrous for any fictional effort trying to pass itself off as the truth. The conflicts of the soldiers, specifically McCoy, are let down by clumsy writing. And the grand finalea montage of real photos of human life lost at the expense of the warare shamelessly manipulative, capitalizing too fine a point on messages De Palma already has ground into the mud. There is a place for staunchly political cinema like "Redacted," just as there is a place for any genre or personal perspective. In this case, it is the crude treatment of the material that spells its undoing.