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Director Pushes Envelope and Agenda in Redacted

  • Annabelle Robertson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2008 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
Director Pushes Envelope and Agenda in <i>Redacted</i>

DVD Release Date:  February 18, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  November 16, 2007
Rating:  R (for strong violent content including a rape, pervasive language and some sexual references/images)
Genre:  Crime/Drama/War
Run Time:  92 min.
Director:  Brian De Palma
Actors:  Patrick Carroll, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Kel O’Neil, Rob Devaney, Izzy Diaz, Mike Figueroa, Ty Jones and Eric Anderson

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following review contains discussion of adult subject matter that is not appropriate for young readers.  Parents, please exercise caution.

It’s 2006 and thousands of American soldiers are in Iraq, fighting the Global War on Terror.  Among them are Reno “Flake” (Patrick Carroll), Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman), Gabe Blix (Kel O’Neil), Lawyer “Coy” McCoy (Rob Devaney), Angel “Sallie” Salazar (Izzy Diaz), Sergeant Vazques (Mike Figueroa), Master Sergeant Sweet (Ty Jones) and their battalion commander, Col. Eric “Happy” Anderson (Eric Anderson)—all members of the U.S. Army.

“Sallie” is filming the experience in the hopes of someday getting into film school.  But thus far, his squadron’s deployment has been very “underwhelming.”  All that changes when a vehicle refuses to stop at their checkpoint one day.  The soldiers scream at the driver, but ultimately Flake is forced to fire on the vehicle.  He kills a young pregnant woman, who was being is rushed to the hospital by her brother.

Soon after, insurgents plant an improvised explosive device (I.E.D.) near the American camp, which kills one of their men.  After the incident, a group gets drunk and raids a civilian home.  Two soldiers brutally rape a teenage girl.  Ignoring their desperate cries for mercy, they then murder her mother, baby brother and grandfather.  Sallie films the entire incident, which is later explained by an Arabic-speaking soldier.  “Iraqis don’t understand our hand signals,” he says—as if that explains why some continue speeding through a military checkpoint as dozens of rifle-toting troops scream and rush the car.

The perpetrators cover up their crime with intimidation and threats, but soon Sallie and Coy feel the pressure and begin to talk.  “Just because you’re watching doesn’t mean you’re not a part of it,” Sallie cries, in a rare moment of remorse.  Unfortunately, it comes too late to halt yet another savage murder. 

This cry is the crux of Redacted, which takes its plot from a recent incident in Iraq.  Although a feature film, it intentionally looks like a homemade movie—actually, a hodgepodge of videos told through the lenses of different cameras.  Brian De Palma (The Black Dahlia) loves to push the cinematic envelope, and this project is no different, both in form and content.  Here, the talented director is toying with the medium in order to make a statement about it.  He’s also very, very angry about the war.

The dominant lens is Sallie’s hand-held, omnipresent camcorder, along with a (pseudo) French documentary, Arab newscasts, a grainy security camera, video blogs and even a terrorist Webcam.  It’s an impressive effort that gives the film an edgy feel.  It’s also a statement about the many different perspectives on the war.  Through these lenses, we’re escorted into not only the soldiers’ world but also that of Iraqi civilians and, for brief instances, even that of the terrorists.

Make no mistake, however.  Redacted is not a film for the faint of heart.  It’s an angry portrayal of wartime violence that is shocking, relentless and virtually impossible to watch without turning away.  It will offend many military members.  De Palma attempts to portray the soldiers as somewhat diverse (albeit clichéd), each with their own moral compass, although he never shows us a well-adjusted soldier or an ethical military parent.  A few are righteous (presumably by their absence); a few are straddling the fence.  And some, clearly, have flung their moral compass as far as possible. 

War is hell?  Indeed—especially for those unlucky enough to cross paths with the latter.  Clearly, De Palma seems to be saying, terrorism is a two-way street, and he also seems to believe that Americans are just as guilty as Al Qaeda.  This message is further hammered by the military’s supposed denial about the crime, which is pure fiction.  All of the soldiers involved in the real crime have been court-martialed.  Three are now serving long-term prison sentences.

In order to make his point, De Palma uses the usual misleading “soldier stereotypes.” The men’s barracks, for example, are filled with open displays pornography—something that is expressly forbidden and stridently enforced, with career-ending consequences, both at home and in deployment locations.  On one Middle Eastern base, for example, the decision was recently made to deny personal e-mail privileges to everyone rather than risk pornography access by a few.  That’s how seriously the military views pornography in real life.

Likewise, the soldiers chug booze like they’re stateside civilians.  The truth is that alcohol is a highly controlled substance in the war theatre and on nearby bases.  It’s therefore absurd to portray these men openly drinking from a liquor bottle while playing with pornographic cards, all within earshot of their commander.

De Palma’s other big message is about the media.  At what point, he asks, do they become accomplices for filming?  And at what point do we, for watching?  An excellent question to ponder, perhaps ironically, before viewing this film.

DVD EXTRAS:

  • “Higher Definition:” Redacted Episode
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Refugee Interviews
  • Photo Gallery

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Characters drink and smoke throughout film.
  • Language/Profanity:  Tremendous numbers of obscenities and profanities, some strong.  Also crude sexual slang and racial slurs.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Numerous sexual references, some illusions to sexual situations and one very graphic rape scene.  [A soldier holds up the covers of two pornographic magazines; soldiers repeatedly discuss their sexual appetites and ways in which to might fulfill them; a soldier gropes a young girl while doing a body search; soldiers play with a deck of “nude” playing cards; soldiers make course sexual comments about, then later rape a teenage girl.]
  • Violence:  Pregnant woman is shot and killed; child plants I.E.D.; soldier’s body explodes into pieces; a soldier is beheaded; soldiers shout and strong-arms another into compliance with a crime; soldier threatens another with a gun; teenage girl screams and begs for mercy while being brutally gang-raped; soldiers murder an entire family, including a young child (offscreen); lengthy montage of brutal, bloody photographs of war victims, including numerous babies and small children.