Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Redacted. Very brutal. Out now. (*****5/10)

Brian DePalma seems to be slipping. His last movie before Redacted was The Black Dahlia, which starred Scarlett Johanssen and Hilary Swank, two of the greatest actresses ever, and it still blew. Redacted is different. There are no stars in this movie. I would go so far as to say that there are not even any great actors. There are a few decent ones, but the pictures tell this story far more than any actors would or could. And the pictures in Redacted are interesting, if not always good. It's a pretty cool way to tell a story, as though there was no film at all, but rather a documentary pieced together from footage found all over the world. The main footage is taken by a soldier in Iraq, who is filming everything that happens for a documentary that he believes will be his ticket into film school when he returns to America. There is also online video blog footage, news camera footage, and webcam shots between husbands in Iraq and wives in America. Together, the bits and pieces add up to the story of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl by American soldiers in Iraq. Another device DePalma uses very effectively, both in the opening credits and the closing scenes, is little black lines obscuring faces, facts, and transcripts from the event. The real story is not so much the rape and murder as it is the cover-up of the incident by the government and the media and of course, more than anything, the military.

There are some good moments near the beginning, like the scene where one of the soldiers is reading from Somerset Maugham's "Death Speaks". Then the movie gets going, but it's hard to care about it. It's so heavy on the anti-Iraqi sentiment by the U.S. soldiers, two in particular, and you end up hating them. Which is fine, because they are the ones we are supposed to hate by the end of the movie, but it feels like the horrific events that are to come are being telegraphed. The movie seems to be saying that it isn't war that turns these men into rapists and murderers, but rather that it is these type of men who want to go to the war. The movie moves extremely slowly, which makes some sense because Iraq must be, for the most part, extremely boring for the soldiers stationed there. And in that context the brutal scenes should seem that much more brutal. But somehow they don't.

And there are some seriously heinous scenes in this movie. The rape scene is almost graphic, and is certainly brutal. The murders we don't see, but we know they took place. And there is a beheading scene later on, like the ones that the insurgents have shown on their internet tapes, that is nothing short of sickening. The movie leaves a bad taste in your mouth. The cover-ups, the sadistic nature of the military culture, the sickening things people do to other people. And yet, it still doesn't work. It's such a high-minded film. It wants to shock and to assault people with the reality of Iraq, but it never makes it there. The closing sequence in the film is the most powerful, with actual, horrific pictures from the Iraq war, pictures that close with the shot of the girl that was really raped and killed by American soldiers, the true story upon which this film was based. Here is the main problem with these message-movies about Iraq. The only people that will watch a film like Redacted are those who are plugged into the world, and are already outraged at the actions of the United States. And so the movie maybe will make them feel more outrage, but so what? People who would actually be affected by this movie, who might have their opinions changed, would never watch it. 10/10 for concept. 2/10 for execution.

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