Friday, 19 November 2010


Redacted is crude, exploitative, and politically simple-minded.

Redacted’s signature gimmick is that it is, in theory, told entirely through “found” materials: home movies taken by one of the American soldiers; excerpts from a French documentary; newscasts on an Arab network; security-camera footage at the U.S. base; embedded video on a jihadi web site; etc. It’s easy to see the possibilities inherent in such a structure--for withholding and releasing information, for offering conflicting versions of the truth--but De Palma chooses not to take advantage of them.

And in part it is because the “found” footage gimmick, while perfectly adequate to conveying the rhythms of daily life, is almost uniquely unsuited to capturing the discussion and commission of war atrocities--activities that, as a general rule, people hesitate to perform on camera.

"Redacted" doesn't pick a point of view and isn't actually providing new information to a supposedly suppressed scandal. We're reminded that soldiers are never sure who's a threat—which makes protecting themselves and innocent civilians awfully difficult—but neither that idea, nor the presentation of a tight-knit band of brothers reluctant to rat out their own, feels like something that was ever hidden from the big screen or the front page.

Unless De Palma's trying to be ironic—and we're quite sure he's not—a fictionalized story likely isn't the best way to show how real-life truths are concealed from the public. "Redacted" is realistic and watchable, but don't expect to learn who's withholding the truth and how.

As harrowing, urgent and pulsatingly angry as it is, Redacted is hardly seamless. Indeed, it's as though the splintered nature of the movie's formal conception got into its DNA and messed with its thinking. There are moments when De Palma is thuddingly obvious in his old coot conception of all-American, video game-era idiocy, and there are others when the formal experimentation adds to the murk of the story it's meant to illuminate.

. It's the first to capture the sheer, brain-humping delirium embedded in the conflict, and to navigate the dizzying abyss that separates seeing from knowing.
Most disturbingly, however, it's aware that there's nothing new under the Mesopotamian sun. As grim as anything the movie depicts is its insistence that we're right back where we started.;jsessionid=1A1AEDAAFDBA2F5CA3DEAD6368774310

, is a piece of anti-war propaganda

and the chaotic shifts of media simulate what it's been like to follow this war. Few movies have gotten the clatter of the Web so right.

De Palma wants the troops out now, but unlike most of the Iraq documentaries and fiction films, his work is passionately antiwar, not anti-this war. Whether it's Vietnam, the locus of De Palma's similar 1989 movie "Casualties of War," or Iraq or the Crimean War, civilians do get caught in the wheels of the war machine.

Making a bad decision that results in civilian death doesn't make you evil - not in war - and it's not even clear that this was a bad decision. De Palma isn't trying to insult the troops but illustrating how any war puts men in impossible situations.

Interview with DePalma

Even after we've forgotten the details, the images of a war remain.

Director Brian De Palma thinks, frankly, that we haven't seen enough of what's going on in Iraq. And although many well-informed Americans might disagree, his new feature, "Redacted," tries to redress that balance, by recreating dozens of ugly snapshots of that war

In "Redacted," though -- the title refers to the censoring of "sensitive" information -- that form finally finds its content. There are many varying images of this war, De Palma maintains - and we're either constantly misreading them, or being deliberately misled.

The film brings us back to reality, though, with a closing montage of images, real Iraqis with their faces scarred by shrapnel or the bodies torn apart by bombs; it is both difficult to look at (which is what De Palma wants) and infuriatingly vague (no distinction is drawn between Iraqis killed by Americans or by each other). The whole sequence does nothing but make you confused and eager to look away.

but also is a new type of anti-war film, one that could have been made only during wartime. It isn't elegiac, but enraged. It doesn't look back with sorrow, but forward in dread. And it's made with a clear intention - to stop the Iraq war.

"Redacted" is the angriest, most vehemently pacifist film ever made by a major American filmmaker in a time of war. It's a movie devoid of any reflexive sentimentality about the troops or the mission, and it doesn't even bother pretending

Video, with its present-tense feel, creates the sense of being there.

Made on HD video and employing images from digital cameras, video recorders, Internet uploads and old-fashioned film, De Palma's movie is a ferocious argument against the engagement in Iraq for what it is doing to everyone involved.

He fictionalizes the events, as he must for legal reasons, but presents them in a way suggesting how he found them; the movie looks cobbled together largely from found Web footage. It's better photographed than much similar material on the Web, and edited to create a relentless momentum, but he wants us to feel as if we're discovering this material for ourselves.

"Redacted" is a metaphor for what De Palma and others believe is the fatal flaw of our Iraq strategy: You cannot enforce "freedom" at gunpoint.

and it's a blunt, flawed picture, flagrant in the way it defies the degree of finesse and meticulous emotional orchestration we expect in a movie. But the nakedness of its anger, of De Palma's anger, is its very strength.

"Redacted" consists largely of re-creations of the images, videos, testimonies and blog entries De Palma found on the Web, a fictional collage (shot in high-definition video) that works as a jagged, reflective mosaic of reality.

But I think "Redacted" is a personal movie more than a political one: If it were merely political, a topical response to current events, it wouldn't be nearly as effective.

And perhaps the movie is least effective when De Palma is working hardest to evoke the dehumanizing aspect of war:

But for De Palma, portraying an act of rape in a way that doesn't horrify us would constitute a betrayal of the act's magnitude. He needs to personalize it, to hit us where we live and not just in the place where we think, analyze, rationalize.

When a man in the audience asked why Americans aren't protesting the war in Iraq on the same scale as they did the Vietnam war, De Palma replied this was because images of the carnage aren't being seen as frequently in TV and print news.

Redacted wants to be a condemnation of how news in wartime is processed and doctored for the American public. Instead, DePalma's movie offers its own doctoring and processing, without delivering an ounce of real humanity - good or bad - in the bargain

: It’s peppered with calculated attempts to aggravate and incite, but there’s real personal anger at work as well. This time around, De Palma doesn’t just want to shock people, he wants to make them mad.

Redacted’s” soldiers have even less reason to go after their victim; they offer no justification for their actions, though their constant complaining about “Johnny Jihad” and worse around them implies that their hostility toward their mission, the military and the country they’re stuck in has just boiled over.

s Redacted is coming out in the midst of actual hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, as are so many other fiction and nonfiction films of the season, and to single out two American rapists and murderers for opprobrium works to distract us from the bigger picture.

Redacted is more of a multifaceted meditation on all the new visual technologies that produce the varied images through which we perceive the war on our television screens.

Mr. De Palma makes very little effort to comprehend the wrongdoers in his version of Iraq. Their vile language and clear class inferiority distance them from any pity or understanding from the average audience member.

Redacted wasn't made to change your mind, but to unburden De Palma's.

. The filmmaker has made no secret of his displeasure, but such censorship only reinforces his point that this war has been—from the outset—profoundly and continuously misrepresented.

The most authentic thing about Redacted is the rage with which it was made.

Redacted” is hell to sit through, but I think De Palma is bravely trying to imagine his way inside an atrocity, and that he’s onto something powerful with his multisided approach. The French documentary frames the events impassively, as timeless tragedies of war. The diarist, in his amiable desire to become a filmmaker, doesn’t realize at first that thrusting a camera between himself and a murder cannot absolve him of complicity in the crime. Finally, the terrorist video is itself an act of violence.

“Redacted” takes all kinds of risks, and so it’s perhaps not surprising that it has already been charged with fomenting anti-Americanism, or that De Palma himself has been accused of exploitation.

But the movie explores an issue that has been debated for years, by Susan Sontag, among others—the morality of visual representations of atrocity—and it comes off as the opposite of exploitation. De Palma exposes no flesh, and illuminates the assault with only a flickering, wavering light; the murders take place off-camera. In all, the assault excites nothing but disgust. None of us particularly want to hear what “Redacted” has to say, including liberals who criticize the war but regard the soldiers as noble victims. De Palma suggests, by contrast, that some soldiers have become demoralized by the incoherent war policy and have fallen into criminal behavior—an unpleasant idea, but hardly, after Abu Ghraib and Haditha, a lie. To transfer the anger engendered by the movie to the moviemaker himself is to allow one’s feelings to blur what’s on the screen.

"Redacted" is much more about the process and techniques of filmmaking than media distortion or coverups.