Iraq. In retaliation for the murder of one of their own, US soldiers undertake a raid on a private house. A splinter group returns later on a private mission, an act that leads to the rape of a 15 year-old girl and the brutal murder of her family.
Inspired by an incident in Mahmoudiya in March 2006, at first glance Redacted looks like Brian De Palma’s Iraq update of his 1989 ’Nam drama Casualties Of War. But more telling touchstones are De Palma’s early low-budget improvs, Greetings and Hi, Mom!. Like these earlier efforts, Redacted (meaning“to re-edit or prepare for publishing”) is as much about media manipulation and politics as it is conflict, an intriguing patchwork of “found” footage that overcooks the interesting concept.
A master technician, De Palma does a great job of mimicking the mediums he uses to construct the story: video diaries, cable news reports, Jihadist websites and, best of all, a French documentary, replete with artsy close-ups. All are skilfully aped, but what he can’t do is shape all of this style into a provocative statement. The film hints at how multi-medias inspire multi-meanings and the challenges of divining truth within the cauldron of conflict, but De Palma has nothing original to say about either.
Still, where Redacted really falls down is that what happens within this techno-tapestry feels false. All of his grunts are standard-issue movie G.I.s, while all the performances, hindered by faux dialogue, are pitched at a near-hysterical level of intensity, which may be intended as a comment on the way people react to having a camera shoved in their face, but doesn't account for the way the characters behave in less guarded moments. By choosing to play out the effects of war on a bunch of unhinged hotheads, De Palma misses the more subtle point that conflict can turn
the ordinary soldier inside out, too.
There are good moments, and De Palma is on a firmer footing documenting the home front with a YouTube-style rant. And a series of photos depicting slain Iraqis, set to Handel’s Sarabande, is undeniably chilling. But the sad thing is, it’s a much better coda than the film that precedes it deserves.
De Palma is incapable of making a dull movie, but poor performances and a see-sawing tone make this an unsatisfying experience.