Friday, November 30, 2007

De Palma goes to war and it's hell

Summary: I've been putting off writing about Brian De Palma's "Redacted" for a couple of weeks. A faux documentary -- or rather a combination of faux documentaries -- "Redacted" looks better than it should and plays worse than it should.

So far "Redacted" seems to be a box-office dud, but it tries to buck the odds in Denver beginning today (Friday). Based on a true story that has been altered to avoid lawsuits, "Redacted" shows how two soldiers led an assault on a Samarra home. The incident, if that's not an overly neutral word, resulted in the murder of an innocent family, the rape of a 15-year-old girl and the destruction of the house.

De Palma takes a gamble for a major filmmaker, relying on moves you might expect to see in an under-financed indie production. He assembles his horrific tale from video purportedly shot by a GI with film school aspirations, from footage lifted from a supposed French documentary about life at a checkpoint and from clips provided by a fictionalized Arab news network. The resultant film -- only still photos shown at the end are real -- coheres as an anti-war statement not unlike the one that De Palma delivered in his 1989 Vietnam film, "Casualties of War."

Redacted means edited -- as in partially censored. That may be the key to understanding De Palma's movie. Perhaps he wants to tell us that if Americans saw the full horror of the Iraq war, they would storm Washington's barricades in protest. Or maybe he's attempting to give us a telling look at the ironies of a moment that has produced a massive amount of visual information, much of it undigested. Without a video-obsessed soldier attempting to record the 24/7 of the war, maybe we wouldn't believe that the depicted crimes occurred. Truth -- if that's what it is -- by accident?

Filmed quickly -- possibly to enhance its sense of urgency -- "Redacted" might have worked had it felt less self-conscious and canned. De Palma mixes the boredom of the GIs with deeply disturbing instances of American and insurgent brutality, but movie's faux realism feels as faux as it does real. We seldom forget that what we're watching involves reenactments, actors and a director's calculated touch.

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