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Brian de Palma's Redacted ups the ante of protest films, fictionally recounting the rape and murder of a 14-year old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers in 2006. Using hand-held camera surveillance footage, Internet videos, excerpts from a French documentary and an Arab TV channel, Islamic fundamentalist websites, and the fictional camcorder diary of a young U.S. private, Redacted lets us know not only about the atrocities of war but about the unreliability of the way in which information is presented in the media and how we cannot trust what we see, even in his film.
Modeled after de Palma's earlier Casualties of War, Redacted searches for a truth in fiction that is deeper than reality-based documentary. Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) carries a video camera around shooting whatever he sees hoping to make a documentary that will be his ticket to film school. We are first introduced to his unit: Gabe Blix (Kel O'Neil), Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney), Sergeant Jim Sweet (Ty Jones) and good ol' boys, Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll) and B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman). The videos make it apparent that our soldiers have lost their sense of purpose and are no longer on solid emotional ground.
The hand held video camera is then replaced by a French documentary about the soldier's routine at checkpoints in Samarra. Suddenly, a speeding car is approaching. Interpreting the signals by U.S. personnel to slow down as meaning they are being waved on through, the car is gunned down, killing a pregnant woman and her unborn child as the driver After a member of Salazar's unit is killed by a bomb, the two men who fired on the speeding car, Rush and Flake, invade the home of an Iraqi family in retribution and to enjoy the "spoils of war". In the middle of the night, they rape and murder a fourteen-year old girl, kill her family, and set the house on fire.
The sensitive Blix does not want to be involved with the mission, and McCoy goes along to try and prevent more harm but fails to stop the violence. Flake and Rush tell the rest of the company that any word of this incident will result in their death. The incident is seen only with a flickering light and the actual assault takes place off camera, but the scene nonetheless elicits a feeling of disgust. As if to try and show that the horrors of war are not limited to one side, de Palma shows the abduction and beheading of a U.S. soldier in very graphic terms. In the final gut wrenching sequence, a montage labeled "Collateral Damage" brings truth and fiction together as we see actual footage of Iraqi war victims mixed with staged deaths and faces that are redacted with black pens.
While Redacted is flawed by inconsistent acting and overly didactic add-ons, its impact is extremely powerful. De Palma indicts both the stupidity of the U.S. government for initiating the war, the complicity of the media in presenting us with a sanitized version of it, and a culture in which such atrocities are permitted to occur. Like the films of French director Bruno Dumont that show how meaningless violence generates more meaningless violence, the visceral impact of Redacted will stay with you for a long time. Slapping us in the face to show us how we have lost touch with the reality of war, the film is full of elemental passion, untidy, disjointed, and at times over-the-top, but in Dumont's words, it returns us "to the body, to the heart, to truth".
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