'Redacted': Actually, It Shows Us Too Much

Patrick Carroll plays a U.S. soldier who rapes and kills an Iraqi girl.
Patrick Carroll plays a U.S. soldier who rapes and kills an Iraqi girl. (Magnolia Pictures)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007

Movies about Iraq have essentially arrived in two forms: critically acclaimed documentaries, and feature films that have bombed at the box office. Which is why a movie from Brian De Palma about the military occupation that employs both genres in a timely synthesis sounded awfully compelling. Sounded.

"Redacted," presented as the camcorder diary of an American grunt, is a fascinating opportunity to evoke a political subject in the telegenic language of our time (the film also takes you on a wild tour through terrorist Web sites, soldiers' blogs and security video logs) and, in entertainment terms, pump up the popcorn volume. After all, the real man behind the camera brought us "The Untouchables," "Scarface" and "Mission: Impossible."

This fictional exploration, based on the actual rape and murder of a teenage Iraqi girl at the hands of American soldiers in 2006, pulls few punches in its political commentary and dramatic content. But the film doesn't add to our insight, doesn't break new ground so much as emptily reflect the war experience as we already know it. We're never really sure why we're watching.

Shot on high-definition video, "Redacted" follows Army Pvt. Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), a moonfaced kid who figures his video journal will later be his ticket into film school. Around him are his barracks buddies, archetypal high-fiving porno-oglers who try to stay alive each day at the military checkpoints. When the appropriately named Flake (Patrick Carroll) figures he'll blow off a little steam with a rapacious house visit, he starts the chain of horrors that is the movie's main event. Angel goes along for the ride, camera whirring, and we're forced to settle in for the dreadful -- and the predictable.

The film -- which blends Angel's diary with excerpts of a French documentary, video on a terrorist Web site and images from security cameras -- amounts to banal echoings of yesteryear's Vietnam War movies. The tubby, leering Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) seems derived from Vincent D'Onofrio's equally pudgy and terrifying Pvt. Pyle in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket." And a battle of conscience between Flake and upstanding straight-shooter Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney) smacks of the face-off between Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger in Oliver Stone's "Platoon." It's hard to have an emotional stake in such schematic creations; they just seem like zeros and crosses in De Palma's heavy-handed tick-tack-toe.

De Palma's reasons for making "Redacted," he has stated in interviews, was to alert audiences to American abuses that, for legal reasons, he could not reveal in a documentary. He also wanted to bring to light the disturbing fragments of our postmodern reality about Iraq -- the blogs, Internet video diaries from soldiers in the field and so forth. "Redacted" adds nothing to what we've seen in documentaries such as "Gunner Palace," "Iraq in Fragments" and "My Country, My Country" or witnessed in other media, including the Internet.

As with De Palma's 1989's "Casualties of War," there's a disconcerting irony between the director's purported intentions and the film's unblinking voyeurism. In "Casualties," four American soldiers abduct, rape and kill a young Vietnamese woman -- and a fifth soldier morally objects. But we feel so sickened by the content of those scenes, it's hard to believe there was anything worthy in the exercise. The same feeling permeates "Redacted."

Is there a good reason for us to be "on the scene" as that unfortunate Iraqi girl and her family meet their horrible demise? Surely it's not to wait impatiently as Salazar oh-so-slowly concludes that maybe filming the unspeakable implicates the observer, too. Instead of feeling the outrage De Palma wants us to, we just register an appalled sense of deja vu.

Redacted (90 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema) is rated R for violence, rape, racial epithets, sexual content and profanity.

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