(No longer in theaters)
Nov 16, 2007
Brian de Palma is one of cinema’s most hypnotic stylists, a virtuoso whose multilayered tracking shots can expand your perception of space, time, and motion onscreen; so it’s a major statement when he throws away his jazzy technique and goes for something rough-hewn and immediate. Redacted is his fictionalized restaging of the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the killing of her family by American soldiers. In content it bears a strong resemblance to De Palma’s Casualties of War, but in form it’s a furious charcoal sketch: an assemblage of fake documentary footage, much of it from soldiers’ camcorders, with inserts of a French documentary (also fake) about the lives of Americans at a security checkpoint in Samarra.
Critics have called the movie crude and punishing. All right, the defense concedes all that, but the movie does a harrowing job of depicting the psychological toll of the occupation on both Iraqis and U.S. soldiers. Despite the presence of two American sociopaths (one named Rush, perhaps in honor of the radio commentator who likened torture at Abu Ghraib to frat-house antics), this is not an unsympathetic portrait. In the film’s best scene, we watch a car approach a checkpoint from the Americans’ point of view. It takes a long time, and who knows who’s inside it? All at once, you understand the corrosiveness of living all the time with that threat. And is it unpatriotic to point out that soldiers on their third tours of duty in a place where they have little knowledge of the culture, where they can’t tell who is on their side and who wants to blow them up, stand a good chance of losing both their moral compass and their minds?
De Palma was forced to mask the faces in Redacted’s postscript, photos of bloody Iraqi corpses—men, women, and children. I respect his impulse to shock us into further rage, but I didn’t look at them. The movie is plenty gut-wrenching until then. As to the charge of misogyny that follows the director everywhere: Anyone who sees the suffering faces of the victims in Casualties and Redacted knows that De Palma not only despairs over what he’s showing us but implicates his own medium—his own male gaze—in the crimes against nature.