This movie was a prizewinner in Venice and received decidedly mixed reviews at festivals in Telluride, Toronto and New York. I myself haven't seen a De Palma movie in years that I thought was worth spilling popcorn over, but I can't pass judgment on Redacted until it goes into national release and I can catch it at my local cineplex.
I've followed early reviews of Redacted with interest because its centerpiece is an incident about which I've blogged extensively: The
Following are excerpts of reviews from movie critics A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, as well as New Yorker magazine writer George Packard, whose commentaries on and from Iraq have been among the very best:
SCOTTRedacted . . . is one of a slew of new American movies that try to deal with the war in
and related matters. Their moods and methods vary widely — Redacted is furious and confrontational; Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs is pedagogical and talky; Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah is mournful and unsettled — but I find myself drawn, in each case, to more or less the same conclusion. I am glad the movie was made, and I wish it were better. IraqTURANFor his temerity in choosing this subject matter, De Palma has been predictably attacked by TV's army of professional patriots. The problem with Redacted, however, is not with its subject matter, nor with its defensible decision to close by showing gruesome documentary photographs of dead Iraqis. It's that by any rational standard, this film is kind of a mess. Even if you agree with its politics, you will probably weep at the ineptitude of it all.PACKARDDe Palma builds the story around the single worst incident of American behavior during the war . . . In one of many too clever contrivances that render Redacted unbelievable, the location is moved to Samarra so that a soldier can be seen reading John O’Hara’s novel Appointment in Samarra and say some portentous things about death. De Palma’s conceit is to tell the story not as his own creation but through a variety of lenses that simulate reality in the age of ubiquitous filming: security cameras on an American base, a French documentary-film production, Arabic satellite-news reports, video blogging, a conversation on Skype between a soldier and his family, and one soldier’s handheld video recording of everything his buddies say and do. These frames within frames allow De Palma . . . to confer an air of intellectual knowingness on a film that, without its central moment of extreme violence, would have no story to tell.
SCOTTAngel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), a soldier in an especially dangerous part of
, dreams of a career in Iraq and imagines that his video diary will be his ticket to fame. When he isn’t turning the camera on himself, he shoves it in the faces of his comrades in arms and in the process captures their boredom and belligerence. He also reveals them to be figures familiar from just about every platoon picture since the 1940s. Hollywood
TURANEven when they are doing nothing but needling one another in their quarters, everything about these soldiers, including their stance as well as their dialogue, feels fake, mannered and contrived, unmistakably the work of posturing actors and not actual combatants.Redacted doesn’t merely offer a frisson of Godardian self-consciousness; this is irony with a revolutionary point, a return to De Palma’s origins in the New Left cinema of the late sixties. And what is the point? That we’re all the same, Zarqawi, Lynndie England, the rapists in Mahmudiyah, CNN, Ashley Gilbertson, the readerrs of the Times, yours truly—we’re all accomplices in the great act of violation that is the Iraq war. The distinction between perpetrator and witness, crime and its documentation, has been obliterated. And you thought you were just trying to find out what’s happening over there? Pas du tout! Hypocrite lecteur—mon semblable—mon frère.
SCOTTIts formal novelty aside, Redacted rarely hits the audience with a genuine shock or a clarifying insight. It churns through a set of ideas and emotions that are confusing and unpleasant, to be sure, but also, by now, dispiritingly familiar. This is not entirely Mr. De Palma’s fault, though I think he may have misdiagnosed the condition of the audience, which is not lack of information about
but rather a pervasive moral and political paralysis. The information is out there — confusing and painful, yes, but nonetheless available for discussion and analysis. Iraq
TURANThe sense of frustration and annoyance that Redacted elicits is intensified during the film's rape scene, which is painful three times over. Once because we are witnessing a horror, twice because we know that situations like this may well exist and three times because watching such a crude and feeble representation insults the reality it is trying to recapture. The same is true for those photographs at the end of the film, which are now shown with the faces of the victims obscured. This awful reality can't help but underline what a sham it is we've been watching up to now.
De Palma has announced that his intention in making Redacted is to end the war. “The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in
to the American people,” he said after a press screening in Iraq . “The pictures are what will stop the war. One only hopes that these images will get the public incensed enough to get their congressmen to vote against the war.” It seems unlikely to me that Redacted will have that effect, or even that De Palma is serious about wanting it to. The movie encourages you to abandon the very powers of analysis and discrimination that might lead you to write your congressman. VenicePhotograph by Jody Shapiro/Magnolia Pictures