Your NPR news source

Redacted

Redacted

REDACTED

 

Let me start with a confession: I admit that I am coming at review of Brian de Palma's REDACTED from a new personal space. I have just finished reading British journalist Robert Fisk's 1200-page book, The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East – a single book which has changed my thinking about the Middle East more than anything else I've ever seen or read.

The lessons of this book, if they can be summarized so succinctly, are that the West has dealt with the Middle East , including Iraq , with a systematic pattern of lies, power grabs and violence, concerned always with the control of economics and geography, and never with people, least of all the civilians.

Brian de Palma's low-budget film REDACTED is based on the rape and murder of a 14-year old Iraqi girl and the subsequent cover-up by a group of American soldiers

How to approach this material? Most of De Palma's career is as a master of the genre film and the creator of such recent movies as Carrie, The Untouchables, Black Dahlia, Sisters and Obsession. In REDACTED, he chooses a more personal, diaristic approach. The film is made up of recreations of images, blog entries and home-video, much of which de Palma originally sourced on the internet.

The verdict of most critics who have written about the film so far, has been negative. They complain that the dialogue feels “scripted,” the would-be-found-footage “unrealistic.”

There is a core group of characters who make up the company of soldiers: Gabe, the bookworm, usually engaged with reading John O'Hara's “Appointment in Samarra ,”  McCoy, a lawyer with a conscience, Salazar, who is the would-be-filmmaker recording his buddies on his video camera. His Iraq video footage, Salazar believes, will be his ticket to Hollywood . There is also Rush, Flake and the leader of the company, Master Sgt. James Sweet.

For some critics, this cast of characters was too stereotypical, as is the choice of de Palma's key images: American heavy armor facing a bunch of Iraqi kids kicking a ball, and the humiliation and degradation of ordinary Iraqis trying to get through checkpoints. Repetition of similar images on TV has made them banal.

The tragedy in REDACTED strikes when a booby-trapped bomb goes off and retaliation by the soldiers of the Alpha Company ensues, with a neat cover-up at the end.

But something is at odds:  many critics would normally praise de Palma for the very same stereotypical situations in a conventional big-budget Hollywood horror film. But in REDACTED they suddenly expect de Palma  - who is a smart commercial director with a conscience - to turn into some kind of sharp-edged film essayist like Godard or Chris Marker.

De Palma's points are obvious: news of the war in Iraq is censored, the American kids we've sent to fight the war have inadequate emotional training, psychological makeup, understanding of the Iraqi people, language, culture or reasons for being there. The place is a powder keg for soldiers spinning out of control and committing atrocities like the rape and brutal murders of the 14-year old girl and her family.

Then what is de Palma after? He has little to add to what we already know. But as a mover of emotion of mass audiences, he is out to stir the emotional brew, to wake up the world from its easy chair, to re-connect the disconnect most of us feel with the Iraq war. Here are these young soldiers. This is the horror they committed. Why did it happen? How can we stop it from happening again?

REDACTED ends with real, documentary images of dead Iraqis.  These were censored by the film's distributor at the last minute.  Black bands were inserted over the eyes to obscure their faces.  The distributor said they feared legal retaliation because de Palma did not have authorized clearance. This in itself became the subject of controversy, especially in a film whose title means “edited.”

Views expressed are personal views of the author and not necessarily those of Facets Multimedia or Chicago Public Radio.

More From This Show