Shock and flaw De Palma’s anti-Iraq war tirade feels like an im­ma­ture stu­dent film, writes

Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

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

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