De Palma Takes on War

“Once again a senseless war has produced a senseless tragedy,” says director Brian De Palma. In Redacted, De Palma tries to make a statement about war without really picking a side. I commend him for that—although his statement belies his inability to actually be unbiased.

Brian DePalma calls the current Iraq war “senseless.” That may a bit naive coming from someone who hasn’t been violated by Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, or even by the U.S. Military. War is never senseless to the participants. There is always a reason; we just may not agree with it, or we may not be in-the-know. That being said, De Palma’s film performs a valuable service: it opens some unadulterated windows into what is happening in this war in one way at least—presenting us with photographs of actual wartime casualties.

Brian De Palma, director of Redacted

Redacted is “inspired” by the rape and murder of a 14-year old Iraqi girl in Samarra in 2006. The records of this event were released by the military; the participants in the real crime are doing prison time. What this fictionalized account shows is that war, and the evil that causes it, distorts and perverts even the best of people. And those who have marginal morality—and then are given a gun and some power—can do unimaginable things. In one respect the evil of such events is good news for the human race: it may be small consolation, but such shocking behavior is fortunately uncommon in U.S. troop archives—redacted or otherwise.

The film is produced in a slick style that unsuccessfully recreates blogs and YouTube’s so-called reporting—”so-called” since everyone seems to have a video camera these days, and personal perspective is all we get. In a sense, this war is a first in offering this type of personal coverage. The premise of Redacted is that unsavory parts of the war in Iraq have been excised from the record—redacted—and this film tells you what you’ve missed. But YouTube has confounded the redactors. CBS News may selectively broadcast mere parts of the war. But YouTube contains up-close and personal archive footage of what is happening on the ground.

So the film tries to make some hay with the popularity of video blogging. Where it falls down is in the essential redactive nature of filmmaking. The footage is too production-ready to be believably blogged. The film’s dialogue, which appears to be pulled verbatim from troop blogs, is shockingly scatological—exaggerated to the point of being nonsensical. The script is too clichéd to have been filmed on the spot. (I always wondered how long it would take to run through a list of all the clichés about war—and now we know: 98 minutes.)

To be sure, the event upon which Redacted is based was completely evil and uncalled for—and in part, if the film is to be believed, the result of the psychological damage the war had already done to these troops’ ability to make proper decisions. What isn’t said in the film, but can be surmised by their racism and total disregard for each other or their host country, is that these particular troops might have done the very same thing in Lexington, Kentucky had they not been in Samarra.

Unfortunately for De Palma, the real redacted images of such events are being seen in the un-redacted world of cyberspace already. And what the blogs have also done is show some of the horrific treatment of Iraqis and U.S. servicemen by terrorists. (I, for one, do not want to see the images, and never have.) But to say that the media and military have successfully redacted the war illustrates a disconnect with what many call “new media.” Based on this film, De Palma is clearly familiar with the new media, as he tries to recreate it—but then he redirects us back to the old media: himself, and his own redacted film.

So De Palma tries to present himself as the purveyor of truth, (the film’s pfc blogger Angel Salazar is De Palma’s alter ego), and his film tries to be the final statement about this war. He fictionalizes the rape and murder to avoid casting judgment. (It seems that his film was finished before the investigation was completed.) De Palma portrays the higher-ups in the Military as brutish and obstructionist.

But I read about the actual rape and 100-year prison sentences for the perpetrators in Army Times. The incident wasn’t redacted from the Military’s own records.

Still, I think Redacted tries to be fair. And if you utilize it with the opportunity you have to compare it with YouTube films and other alternate sources of news, it can be a valuable moral statement.

Everyone has an opinion about war, and generally everyone’s opinion is the same: “War is hell.” The problem comes from looking for someone to blame. But check this out: All have sinned, and all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Redacted is rated R for “strong disturbing violent content including a rape, pervasive language and some sexual references/images.” It has graphic swearing, graphic depictions, and actual war photographs of casualties. Ironically, your kids have probably seen worse on YouTube already. Interesting how the Internet has made the MPAA seem stodgy and anachronistic.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Mike attended a promotional screening of Redacted.