“Are you not supporting the troops?” soldier Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll) charges his superior Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney) while on an unplanned nighttime raid in Samarra, Iraq, just before committing the first of several atrocious and appallingly inhumane acts so despicable that their after effects would reach the entire globe.
In Brian De Palma’s unflinching and in-your-face Redacted, based on the horrifically true report of U.S. soldiers who raped a fourteen year old girl and then murdered her entire family, the crime forms the centerpiece of his latest film which begins inauspiciously following soldiers around on their daily travels until it begins to get far more intense and ugly as the film charges towards its conclusion in a brisk ninety or so minutes. As IMDb reports, approached by HDNet Films back in 2006 with the opportunity to make a film for five million dollars, utilizing solely HD, De Palma found a supportive financial backer in Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (most recently known to me from Dancing With the Stars). For Redacted’s framework, De Palma decided to take the meaning of the title (which is another way of saying ‘edited’) literally and create a mixed media montage of the events before and after the incident. The media used in the film was inspired by actual footage he’d discovered online via YouTube, blogs, newscasts and other postings of footage on American and Arab websites uploaded from all of the modern technological gadgets carried by both sides from video equipped cell phones, mini camcorders and other rigged cameras.
When the film opens, we meet Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), an aspiring film student hoping that his tour in Iraq, coupled with all of his unrelenting footage he films on his mini camcorder will be his ticket into USC Film School. While the opening of Salazar introducing us to his fellow soldiers, including their kind leader Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney) and the menacing, prejudiced duo of B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll), seems overly staged as a bulk of De Palma’s film admittedly does, it becomes oddly addicting as we continue on with viewing their daily routines running a checkpoint in Samarra, despite the fact that few Iraqis are literate and cannot read the posted signs nor understand the body language and words dictated to them with each stop. As viewed by De Palma, there’s confusion on both sides with the American soldiers in the film perpetually wanting to go back home but find their deployment extended and the Iraqis not liking our military presence. Of course, the American soldiers dutifully go about their tasks, following rules down to a T. that get even more questioned when they must open fire on vehicles who do not stop for fear of insurgents and once kill a woman in labor being hurried to the hospital by her brother. The soldiers involved stay numb to these events, possibly either as an act, not wanting to wear remorse on their sleeve or not allowing themselves to feel it and it is this perpetually heightened state of uncertainty, jeopardy, danger and orders that sometimes breeds far different soldiers than the ones we sent overseas as Roger Ebert noted his view that, “if you put men in a hell hole and arm them, and if they are predisposed to violence, they will not always follow the rules or even remember them.”
Later as a drunken hypothetical over a game of poker, a few of the soldiers begin throwing out ideas of how to get revenge for the death of one of the fallen men from their unit and, deprived of the company of women, Rush and Flake decide that they want to return to the home of one of the prettiest students who comes across the checkpoint with the intent of rape. One soldier leaves the table almost immediately, Salazar films the entire exchange and McCoy, feeling responsible for his men tries to talk the two out of it but the four leave the base with Salazar being the videoing eyes and ears for his documentary and McCoy trying and failing to reason with the men before he’s threatened and shoved outside the home. The fifteen year old girl is attacked in the film’s most disturbing and graphic scenes before her entire family is killed and the house is set on fire and although the events are fictionalized for legal reasons by De Palma and his crew and we all remember that the young woman was just one year younger in real life, it’s a harrowing, upsetting scene that will haunt viewers for days. And almost as tragic as the events being performed are the other moral questions that go along with it as we question the accountability of others involved who either stood by or turned their backs, who although threatened with death by Reno and Flake, were aware of the goings on from the first discussion until afterwards, one realizes that morally he must speak up.
Admittedly biased and manipulative with as several critics pointed out, a preference to provoke or shock more than share any thesis, Redacted earned several placements on worst film of the year lists (including at least one top spot) from some critics whom I admire yet it also earned De Palma two high honors at the 2007 Venice Film Festival. While I concede that at times it is propagandist, I think charges of it being Anti-American seem a bit ridiculous as (and I’m sensitive of that having several past and current soldiers in my family) if anything, it makes us wonder just what we’re doing there and what is going on in our name and to our men and women overseas. However, manipulative as it is, it may be less propagandist than some network newscasts (Fox News, anyone?) and at the very least, even when we disagree with points being made or cinematic decisions, Redacted inspires in viewers the ability for thought, reaction and dialogue which in any case makes its position as “the worst film of the year” seem far more outrageous when one considers other possible contenders such as the woman-hating Georgia Rule or Razzie winner Norbit that don’t even respect their audiences enough to let them think and make up their own minds.