Redacted

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What does it take to make Americans angry about being lied to?

Sep 1, 2011 (Updated Sep 2, 2011)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:Refugee Interviews, a movie about the use of new technologies

Cons:the evasion of responsibility by those putting people in such situations, unnecessary final montage

The Bottom Line: De Palma fascinated by new technologies, enraged by the liars recklessly endangering troops in impossible situations


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

It's Brian De Palma Day chez moi? Seems to be!

I've remembered De Palma for two great fims: the 1981 "Blow Out," which Criterion has just released in stunning visual transfer with loads of bonus features, and the 1989 "Casualties of War," which showed that Michael J. Fox could do more than ingratiate (not to mention Sean Penn, who has never been big on being ingratiating and was particularly vicious in "Casualties of War"). De Palma has made much more commercially successful movies than these two great ones, including Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), Carlito's Way (1993), the first Mission Impossible (1996)— along with the disastrous adaptation of Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) and such dubious (if stylish) movies as Snake Eyes (1998),  Mission to Mars (2000) and "The Black Dahlia" (2006) that lost money.

Another movie about young Americans (soldiers) way out of their depth in a hot and hostile environment of counter-insurgency did not make me rush to a movie theater to see "Redacted" in 2007 (a year which also saw the excellent "Rendition" and the well-acted "In the Valley of Elah" followed in 2008 by the Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker" (and "Stop-Loss" and "American Son") and in 2009 by "The Messenger" and "Taking Chance" preceded by the 2005 "Jarhead" with Jake Gylenhaal). And on the heels of so many documentaries (for me, including the 2010 "Restrepo" and Like "Casualties of War," "Redacted" dramatized a real instance of rape and murder of civilians (detailed in Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death by Jim Frederick) and one soldier's unease with what he was supposed to remain silent about.

"Do we need to go there again?" is a question I asked myself, and Brian De Palma most certainly asked himself. His answer and eventually mine as well are a reluctant yes. As Cheney and Bush and Powell lied about the imminent danger Saddam Hussein presented to Peoria, I wondered how the populace of these United States could again fall for official lies. The lessons Powell learned from actually having been in Vietnam were cast aside by Donald Rumsfeld (who, unlike Cheney and Bush had combat experience in an earlier war than Vietnam) the draft-avoider Cheney and the deserter from his safe post George W. Bush. Rumsfeld in particular learned to more tightly control access of reporters to what was going on in the field, particularly in a counterinsurgency (as he long denied there was an insurgency).

Absolutely central to De Palma's movie are new media that any soldier might use, including mobile phones, lightweight digital cameras, Skype, Facebook, etc. These are what made denial of the tortures at Abu Grhaib fail (though the Bush administration managed to confine disciplining low in the chain of command). In the movie (which I will reiterate was based on a real atrocity), two of the five men are making video diaries. These include their sergeant (the only person exercising any discipline over them) exploding, and one of the two video diarists being abducted. (BTW, the fascination with the mechanics/techniques of representation makes "Blow Out" a precursor of "Redacted." "Blow Out" and "Casualties of War" also prefigure "Redacted" in official rejection of the possibility of the crimes. The coverup of the atrocities in "Redacted" does not succeed as well as the ones in "Blow Out," but the depressing realization that no one cares what really happens is a theme running hrough both movies.)

De Palma also includes security camera footage, and in contrast to all these rough media, a French* tv documentary that has the elegant look of a Brian De Palma movie. This collage of media makes for one important difference from "Casualties of War," which was shot on film stock. I will readily stipulate that the characters in "Casualties of War" or war were more developed than those in "Redacted," though they were also quite schematic.

In a regrettably brief interview that is a bonus feature on the DVD, De Palma opines that soldiers in Iraq are in a more frustrating position than those in Vietnam were: those in Vietnam had access to sex, drugs, and alcohol, all of which were and are largely unavailable to US military personnel in Iraq (and Afghanistan). The frustration and constant anxiety of urban residence with enemies who do not look any different from civilians leads to aggression—and not just in this movie. The young men were lied to about why they were put into a place where they know nothing of the language or culture (and care less, if that is possible) and are not invariably noble. They (and we safe at home) should be angry about being lied to (and the deployments drag on, three years after we elected someone who opposed the occupation of Iraq...)

I would not rate De Palma's movie "Redacted" four stars (the final montage, which was then redacted by the studio!, is quite unnecessary, as is reading the "appointment in Samarra" tale within the movie and the poker game, etc.), and, especially after the interview on the Criterion edition of "Blow Out" would have liked more from De Palma talking about what he did with five million dollars in Jordan (that would be 1/18th of the budget for "Mission to Mars" a tenth of that for "The Black Dahlia"0). A five-minute look at shooting a poker scene is unimpressive. What makes the DVD four-star is the more than an hour of "Refugee Interviews," which, of course, none of the war movie fans like Cheney want to watch. As Cheney's new memoirs show him to have learned nothing from the disaster of sending American troops on the wild-goose chase for weapons of mass destruction, seemingly from avoiding reflection on the lies he sponsored in controlling the president's daily briefings and continues to spew, and I'd venture the guess that even among those who watch "Redacted," only a small proportion will watch "Refugee Interviews." They are even less entertaining than the movie, and rational examination of realities is un-American, and to Cheney suspect of being treason. I'm not expecting any serious consideration of war crimes from Cheney & Co. like the late Robert MacNamara's (in regard to fire-bombing Japan, not just napalm, etc. in Vietnam) in "The Fog of War," and it is more than possible that in a few years there will be another military deployment justified with blatant lies and more atrocities committed by unsupervised swaggering naifs far from home. Sigh!

*Is the documentary being French a gratuitous provocation? I think not. The French did not accept the lies of Cheney & Company, and have been proven right, while American media have been complicit with the coverup of lies before and during the seemingly endless course of the US military deployment (which has passed the point of being twice as long as US military action in the Second World War). Also the French send Arabic speakers to cover stories, while the Bush administration conducted a pogrom against Arab-speaking translators within the military and reporters clueless about the languages and cultures is The American Way.

To me it is clear that De Palma (re: Vietnam and Iraq) is blaming those deploying the troops for atrocities, not blaming troops when some atrocity becomes undeniable. I think that the way to support our troops is not to put them in harm's way for frivolous and competely disonhest made-up reasons. I think the formula for De Palma's and my definition of the situation is: support our troops by bringing them home and not sending them out without reality-based reasons.

And one change from the real case is that the raped girl in the movie is fifteen. The one raped and killed (with premeditation) by soldiers of a platoon of Bravo Company of  the 502nd Infantry Regiment of 101st Airborne Division in 2006, Abir Qasim Hamza, was fourteen. And the kidnapping of three soldiers preceded rather than following the rape and murder portrayed (of one videographer) in the movie.


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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