The Reeler


November 15, 2007


De Palma fights misinformation with caricature in his irresponsible Iraq manifesto

Redacted is the story of a bunch of rednecks who drink beer, play cards and make lewd comments until they commit gang-rape. That these particular rednecks just happen to be representative of the entire American armed forces is the inadvertent implication of Brian De Palma's Redacted, where poker games devolve into angry discussions about whether or not to commit gang-rape.

Inspired, more or less, by the 2006 rape and murder of Zahara Al Zubaidi -- whose entire family was also murdered -- Redacted posits itself as a referendum on the war as a whole. The rape is inescapably metaphorical, but also a literal demonstration of typical occupation life, allowing Americans to vent on-camera and Iraqis to call bullshit on all of their claims. De Palma, for once in his life, is steeped in serious intent: In his director's statement he writes of the power of war imagery, like those from the Vietnam War, which galvanized citizens into protesting and bringing "that misguided conflict to an end.” De Palma hopes that "the images from this film have the same effect." Audiences may have agreed at the Venice Film Festival, where Redacted received a 10-minute standing ovation; this, however, is the festival that also rose for Kenneth Branagh's Sleuth. Skepticism is in order.

Samarra, Iraq: Private Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) begins an on-the-fly documentary about his unit. Intercut with this footage is that of Barrage, an unseen French documentary team's film, which provides an alternate, satirically pretentious viewpoint of the same unit. Security cameras, YouTube videos and a variety of fake sources fill in the rest of the narrative gaps. The company goes from weary camaraderie to complete disrepair -- incited first by the dismembering explosion of one of their company, exacerbated by the long, ambiguous turns of border patrol duty, where it's impossible to tell whom and whom not to shoot. When privates B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll) -- "scraped from the bottom of the gumbo barrel," as Salazar says -- get defiantly drunk and go off to rape and murder, various degrees of atrocity ensue.

De Palma is hopeless at using any style or frame of reference but his own; he's aiming for verisimilitude but churning out the same over-aestheticized project as usual. Salazar begins his movie with the De Palma trademark: a long, characteristic slow zoom in on the assembled company, penetrating multiple foregrounds. More zooms await in the French film, ponderously set to the score from Barry Lyndon for no particular reason, save one more homage. Token egghead Gabe Blix (Kel O'Neill) spends his time reading one of De Palma's favorite novels, John O'Hara's Appointment In Samarra. In short, De Palma hasn't sacrificed an inch of the references or stylization that make him unique. Even the security tapes play out in long, unbroken takes, drawing attention to De Palma's clever blocking within such a tight frame rather than achieving any degree of realism or rawness. As an experiment in stylistic assimilation, Redacted is a failure; as an exercise in De Palma style, it's at least a step up from last year's bloodless The Black Dahlia.

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Redacted also marks the first time in nearly a decade -- arguably since 1998's Snake Eyes -- that De Palma has allowed his actors to occupy more space than the mise-en-scene. Unfortunately that's exactly where De Palma goes wrong; unwisely writing all the dialogue himself, he has crafted the crudest portrait of the American Army in memory. Redacted's main contribution to the current war discourse is to compare endless tour reassignments to the movie Clerks: this is our day off, we're not supposed to be here. Exhibit A in De Palma's piece-of-shit pantheon is Reno, the most reprehensibly backwoods character since Larry the Cable Guy, and an apparent emblem of the worst part of the Army. Highlights include Reno complaining, in classic Kevin Smith-speak, about how his "fuckstick" needs some "pussy," and later conducting a memorial interview for a kidnapped soldier while wearing, for no apparent reason, a duck hat; he pauses the interview to tell a long, rambling story about the violent exploits of his brother, named Vegas.

At this point Redacted tips, conclusively, from the misguided to the bizarre and irresponsible. It's one thing to argue that a large contingent of our troops are poorly trained and briefed, quite possibly undereducated and overly prone to violence. It's another to portray them as mere drunken rapists who wear weird hats, interspersed with the occasional ineffectual wimp. If De Palma truly believes that these are the types of issues that have been egregiously "redacted," fighting misinformation with caricature isn't going to solve the problem.

Like most things so crude and vile as to be beyond the ken of normal human behavior, Redacted becomes hilarious -- Delta Farce 2, said my disgruntled viewing companion. Sounds about right; I just doubt that's what De Palma had in mind.

Comments (2)

I hope with all my heart that the failure of this film bankrupts De Palma.

Heather Huntington's comment "...Finally an Iraq War movie done right" is appalling, there are so many things that are portrayed wrong in this movie . 1st off there is no porn or any resemblance there of allowed in Iraq under a soldiers possession, nor is any alcohol what so ever or it is punishable by UCMJ. These 2 major flaws among many others I found in the movie that shows that the creator knows nothing about the military and serves only an extreme Left wing agenda with a deeply rooted hatred of America itself.

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