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Monday, September 9, 2013

REDACTED -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review first appeared online in 2007 at

"It's a pretty juicy story though, isn't it?  A band of brothers...losing their moral compass and trying to wreak vengeance on a 15-year-old girl."

This is how McCoy (Rob Devaney) describes the events he witnessed the previous night when two of his fellow squad members go on a rape and murder spree in Brian DePalma's REDACTED (2007), one of the most unrewarding and depressing viewing experiences imaginable.  And despite his loftily-stated goal of bringing attention to the war in Iraq, I couldn't help but imagine DePalma the sensationalistic filmmaker getting a charge out of being able to sink his cinematic teeth into such a "juicy" story himself while basking in both the critical plaudits and heated controversy it was sure to evoke.

The film is a mockumentary mash-up of various styles of footage from different sources--a somber French documentary about American soldiers guarding a checkpoint in Samarra (these scenes were directed by second unit director Eric Schwab), simulated Iraqi newscasts, security cameras, various streaming video of soldiers' wives, war protesters, and terrorists venting their feelings online, and home video shot by a gregarious young soldier named Salazar (Izzy Diaz), who hopes to break into filmmaking after he returns to the States.  His squad includes nice guy McCoy, a big, dumb redneck named B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman), and a lanky psychotic redneck with the non-too-subtle name of Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll). 

Long periods of crushing boredom punctuated by moments of frantic terror, during which the soldiers manage to machine-gun several innocent civilians who misinterpret their orders to stop at the checkpoint, lead the less balanced squadmembers--the two South'ren boys, of course--to contemplate the dastardly act around which the movie revolves.  Inevitably, Rush and Flake end up entering the house of an Iraqi family and raping the 15-year-old daughter before killing them all, while Salazar records it all for posterity on a hidden helmet-cam and McCoy agonizes over his inability to stop it.  Later, while the military investigates the crime, some outraged terrorists kidnap one of the soldiers and mete out bloody justice of their own.

Lacking any cinematic stylings or engaging dialogue--this may as well have been shot by your dad instead of the man who directed CARRIE and SCARFACE--we're simply presented with a BLAIR WITCH-style home video of evil, sadistic American soldiers brutally raping an Iraqi girl and murdering her family like dogs, then terrorizing their weaker companions into silence.  Technically, it doesn't even succeed on a BLAIR WITCH level, because that sort of thing demands ultra-naturalistic acting and dialogue that look and sound completely unaffected.  Here, we're never convinced that these guys are anything but actors reciting lines by a filmmaker dramatizing his own agenda.  It doesn't help that, for legal reasons, the cast was forced to stick to a carefully-worded script that left little or no room for improvisation.

Daniel Stewart Sherman as the much too conveniently-named "Rush" comes off like a deranged Chris Farley character, while Patrick Carroll's Flake could've stepped right out of a Roger Corman flick.  Rob Devaney tries his best as McCoy, but just can't make his unwieldy dialogue sound natural.  Only Izzy Diaz as Salazar and Ty Jones as the ill-fated Master Sergeant Sweet come close to intermittently giving the impression of real people.  As for the actors who appear in the brief online segments, most resemble either overzealous performance artists or melodramatic TV characters.

REDACTED begins with a title that reads "This film is entirely fiction, inspired by an incident widely reported to have occurred in Iraq.  While some of the events depicted here may resemble those of the reported incident, the characters are entirely fictional, and their words and actions should not be confused with those of real persons." Then, little animated scratch-out lines slowly obscure the words, implying that the matter has been hushed up and swept under the rug, or "redacted."  Yet the original event that this fictional account was "inspired" by was well-documented and widely-reported, and the criminal soldiers have already been tried and convicted (one faces the death penalty). 

With no actual entertainment value to speak of, we know that we're in for nothing more than a slow descent into unrelieved unpleasantness.  The cartoonishly bad soldiers start out bad and steadily get as much badder as the script can contrive for them to get until the inevitable rape and murder sequence, which is, of course, bad.  But with the focus being on an isolated outrage committed by a mutant microcosm of the American military, and considering that DePalma's 1989 Viet Nam film CASUALTIES OF WAR covered the same territory in the same way, you have to wonder exactly what all-encompassing statement he's trying to make.

I'm pretty sure it isn't "Support the Troops."  While most anti-war films target governments and politicians who use soldiers as pawns, REDACTED takes aim at the soldiers themselves.  Put Johnny in a uniform and turn him loose in a foreign country, and he's just a hair's breadth away from devolving into a slavering, kill-crazy rapist.  Needless to say, if you have family members serving in the military overseas, you might want to skip this film during your next trip to Blockbuster.

Besides the soldiers-on-a-rampage sequence, the most disturbing part of the movie for me is the terrorist video that features the close-up beheading of a kidnapped soldier.  This is the old straight-razor-in-the-elevator, chainsaw-in-the-shower DePalma at work, using bloody horror to punch his audience in the gut.  While he gets to do it here in the guise of a political statement, it's hard not to imagine the old shockmeister getting off on the chance to film disgustingly lurid scenes like this.

Finally, DePalma depends on a gruesome photo montage of actual civilian war casualties, which are of course shocking and tragic, to give his film a powerful ending that the narrative itself fails to achieve.  Yet even here, at least two of the images are fake--one recognizable as a still from an earlier mock-u-doc segment of the film, the other being the admittedly heartrending final shot.  At any rate, it's unclear whether or not the last moments of REDACTED are simply a calculated effort to easily manipulate viewers' emotions and to evoke standing ovations at film festivals.

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