Shock and flaw De Palma’s anti-Iraq war tirade feels like an immature student film, writes
REDACTED Directed by Brian De Palma Starring Kel O’Neill, Ty Jones, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Izzy Diaz, Rob Devaney 16 cert, limited release, 90 min
I BEGIN to detect a Machiavellian strategy on the part of Hollywood’s liberal establishment. The film-makers believe, perhaps, that the American cinema-going public will eventually become so tired of boring, pompous, schematic anti-war films that they will demand a withdrawal from Iraq. Then, when the troops are safely by the fireside, we will finally be offered this generation’s Apocalypse Now or its Thin Red Line. It is, of course, a ridiculous notion. For a start, films such as Rendition, Lions for Lambs and, now, Redacted fairly drip with sincere intent and, moreover, the public has repeatedly given these pictures the widest of berths. You might as well protest the war through the medium of modern dance.
Redacted may just be the angriest film in the genre to date. Brian De Palma has taken an alleged atrocity from 2006 and attempted to tell a version of the story using fabricated YouTube clips, close-circuit TV, video diaries and rolling news footage.
The picture goes among a platoon of soldiers billeted in some hot spot and attempts to assemble a comprehensive portrait of their fears and discontents. We encounter a frustrated intellectual, a budding film-maker, a hulking bully, a borderline psychotic and other shallowly constructed characters as, after days of bickering and dozing on the barricades, they make their way to a house outside the wire. The more bellicose members of the team have decided to take their frustrations out on a 15-year-old girl who has been passing through their checkpoints daily. A horrific rape follows.
De Palma watchers will detect elements of Casualties of War, his 1989 Vietnam drama, in that synopsis. The new film is, however, even more overwrought than that unsubtle piece.
Over the years, in works as various as Carrie, The Untouchables and Dressed to Kill, we have become used to his trademark blend of visual bombast and careering narrative hysteria. In truth, he is the last person you would entrust with material as sensitive as this. As it turns out, Redacted feels, at times, like the work of an unusually immature student and, at others, like the work of an old man trying desperately to get down with the kids.
De Palma’s script is shamefully unsophisticated in its attempts to drag together its varied perspectives. Characters are forever spouting slogans or - if unsympathetic - spitting out dialogue that would seem inappropriate if bellowed by the villain in a low-budget slasher movie. Here, we find one of the villains laying out the unhappy family circumstances that turned him to the bad. Over here, the anguished, morally conflicted recruit listens to his father, a soldier himself, as the older man explains that the establishment could do without another scandal like Abu Ghraib. The average teenager could manage greater nuances in a single, hastily scrawled graffiti.
Worse still, the attempts to replicate the grammar of various digital media are hopelessly bungled. De Palma must, we assume, own a computer, but his versions of YouTube rants and video diaries are no more sophisticated than Bob Hope’s notoriously terrible anti-hippie monologues. Cameras appear to be anchored on tripods.
The characters position themselves neatly like actors in an off-Broadway play and deliver their lines with clear, precise diction. What follows will feature “no logical narrative to make sense of it”, one video diarist says. The opposite is the case: the film lacks the disorder we expect from real life.
And yet. We should, perhaps, welcome the fact that film-makers continue to forward forceful arguments on this continuing catastrophe.
The problem is not that it constitutes propaganda, but that it constitutes bad propaganda. Such clumsy, ill-thought-out tirades only serve to promote the other side’s case.
War story: An embedded cameraman and reporter film a military operation in Redacted