MOVIE REVIEW by Willard Manus
REDACTED, the new "fictional documentary" by writer/director Brian De Palma, is an anti-war film on a par with Born on the Fourth of July, Paths of Glory and All Quiet on the Western Front. In a way, REDACTED cuts even deeper, thanks to its blunt, raw, uncompromising depiction of the way things are in Iraq.
De Palma, who made a previous anti-war film, Casualties of War (about Viet Nam), was approached by HD NET Films who asked if he would be interested in shooting a feature using high definition video. He said he would if the company allowed him the freedom of dramatizing the true story of a squad of US soldiers who had raped and killed a 15-year-old Iraqi girl, then slaughtered her family.
REDACTED, which means to edit or censor a document, explores the reasons how and why American boys could go so wrong. Filming in Jordan, De Palma wisely limited the exterior action to just a few streets which were mostly seen at night (as a way of getting round hi-def's visual deficiencies). Interiors were carefully restricted, with lighting kept low, backgrounds out of focus. De Palma kept his camera on the people in the story--the American soldiers, their Iraqi victims, plus the odd journalist or two (French and Arabic). De Palma also cleverly worked segments from fictional blogs and TV news segments into the narrative, with believable and telling results.
The major credit for the film's success, though, must go to its actors. Daniel Stewart Sherman, Patrick Caroll, Mike Figueroa, Ty Jones, Rob Devaney and Ked O'Neil comprise the American ensemble, Zahrfa Kareem Alzubaidi heads the small Arab-speaking team. Together these young, largely unknown actors turn in performances that are startlingly real and convincing, steeped in anger, pain and horror.
As REDACTED shows so graphically, the nature of the war in Iraq puts an inhuman strain on all those in harm's way--out on patrol, manning roadblocks, searching for insurgents. The threat of suicide bombers, booby traps and sniper attacks is constant and relentless; death comes without warning or mercy. It makes for extreme paranoia and a smouldering resentment not only against the enemy but the war itself. It can also erupt into near-insane anger and violence.
When they're not on duty, the soldiers in REDACTED are penned up in tight quarters, where they play cards, read porn magazines, drink booze, smoke dope, play cards, rail against Iraq and the Iraqis, swap insults and wisecracks. De Palma no doubt encouraged his cast to improvise dialogue as they went along, making for even more real--if blisteringly profane--performances.
REDACTED deals with not one but two atrocities. The first comes when the uptight, trigger-happy squad opens fire on an Iraqi car which refuses to stop at a roadblock. Everyone in the vehicle is killed, including a pregnant woman whose panicked husband was only trying to rush her to a hospital before she gave birth.
The rules of engagement under which the soldiers are operating enables them to be exonerated by their superiors. It's not clear, though, what happens to the two soldiers who commit atrocity number two--the rape of a young Iraqi girl (over the protests of some of their buddies, it should be noted). In a way it hardly matters. Brutal and debased as this crime was, it pales beside the greater, all-encompassing crime of the war itself.