In the five years since the start of the war in Iraq the American public has had time to reconsider circumstances and the reasons behind their country’s involvement of the removal of Saddam Hussein and its filmmakers are now starting to ask pertinent questions about the actions that have taken place there. With a continually growing number of military and civilian deaths, numerous claims of torture and abuse by troops on innocent civilians being made public and the serious destabilisation of the region that has resulted from those actions, it is gradually becoming clear that their government have not been entirely honest or honourable in their intentions towards the Middle-East. The truth it seems has been "redacted", a verb defined here as "to prepare, edit or revise for publication", a modern term used to fit the old adage that the first casualty of war is truth.
That indeed was the subject of Brian De Palma’s previous film in the genre, Casualties of War - then dealing with a case of the rape and murder of innocent civilians by American troops during the Vietnam War. The subject matter remains the same in the director’s latest film, Redacted, which, regardless of whether its story of the circumstances around the 2006 rape and killing of a 15 year old Iraqi girl in Samarra is based on an actual case or not, it is certainly representative of thousands of similar claims that have been made against the occupying forces. In line with the modernisation of the subject, De Palma takes a new approach that is certainly valid in the age of Internet technology, where the truth would seem to be readily available through numerous published eye-witness accounts, internet blogs, and uploaded home videos.
De Palma’s film is made up entirely of such modern documentary devices, created with the intention of providing a broad perspective on the events surrounding the incident in question. He uses an American soldier’s home video, a fictional documentary by a French film crew, news reports filmed by embedded journalists, execution videos on terrorist web sites, footage from security cameras and even the blog of the wife of an American soldier. It’s a great opportunity to show how modern communication can be so advanced, yet lead to miscommunication and misinformation, but De Palma seems too dumb to realise the potential of such a method, and instead weaves all the viewpoints together into a consistent narrative. I’m not inclined to use the term like "dumb" lightly in relation to any filmmaker, but it seems the only way to regard the sheer incompetence of the director’s approach here. It’s clear that De Palma has a serious point to make and is at least attempting to bring a serious issue to the public’s attention, but director doesn’t even seem to be aware of the irony of taking material from only one viewpoint and presenting it himself in a redacted manner, one dramatised to be fit for public viewing.
To say that the film lacks verisimilitude would be an understatement, with everything having the consistency of being shot in crystal clear widescreen digital High Definition and with Dolby Digital surround sound no less – even security camera footage. The failure to find naturalism in the "found footage" is matched by the poor, cliché heavy dialogue ("winning hearts and minds", "shit happens", "you can’t judge a book by its cover", "just doing our job", "the first casualty of war is truth") intoned as if it were deep and meaningful, and badly acted, poorly staged performances that not only fail to have a ring of truth about them, but they in fact make a rather serious situation like the abduction and execution of a soldier seem laughable. If the film wanted to give the impression of the sheer nightmare quality of life on the ground for both military and civilians in Iraq, it ought to look more like Bruno Dumont’s Flandres, whereas Redacted’s dramatically contrived approach is about as subtle, naturalistic and related to real-life as Starship Troopers, with which it does indeed share a similar aesthetic.
What is an immeasurably more serious failing of the film however is De Palma’s narrow, blinkered and reductionist view of the situation in Iraq, seeing the problems as stemming from the actions of troops on the ground, who in Redacted seem to commit isolated atrocities out of boredom, sexual frustration and being high on alcohol and drugs. Taking such a limited view of the war lets the administration that tacitly or explicitly encourages and supports their actions off the hook by failing to question why the soldiers are even there in the first place.
Redacted is released on DVD in the UK by Optimum Home Entertainment. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
The only flaw you could find with the film’s presentation on DVD here is that is the High Definition quality looks too good for the sources it is supposed to come from within the context of the film. Technically, there is nothing to fault. The image is presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is anamorphically enhanced and progressively encoded. Colours are true to life, capturing the tinted tones of the desert scenes, showing detail in green night-vision with clarity and detail even in security camera footage. Evidently there are no analogue flaws or dustspots, but digitally the transfer also seems well encoded with no evident edge-enhancement issues or compression artefacts. Perfect.
Again, regardless of whether or not the hi-fidelity quality of the film’s soundtrack is in keeping with the faux-documentary nature of the dramatisation, it’s as good as it could be in both Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, packing the requisite punch when necessary. Dialogue is always clear.
There are no English subtitles provided for the English language sections of the majority of the film, but fixed subtitles – small, and presumably the original font that was used in theatrical presentations – are there for the French language documentary sections and when Arabic is spoken.
In a brief interview Higher Definition (8:52), seemingly sponsored by HDNet who financed the film, Brian De Palma talks about being inspired by things he read on the Internet and why he consequently chose HD to present the material in a similar fashion. He compares the situation between Vietnam and Iraq, but incredibly and tellingly, only really sees the difference and danger being that the troops in Iraq are even more "sexually frustrated". The real horror of the situation on the ground in Iraq is given in testimony in the Refugee Interviews (1:01:39) by Iraqi people forced to flee the country for Jordan, their lives destroyed by the descent of the country into anarchy following US intervention. They are also asked to give their view on the film, which they find an accurate portrayal of how things are in Iraq. The Theatrical Trailer (1:26) plays on the film’s controversy and subject matter by only showing a brief clip and advising the viewer to "See what they don’t want you to see". Finally, a Stills Gallery (2:40) is a silent slideshow presentation of promotional and behind-the-scenes stills.
Brian De Palma’s heart is in the right place, no doubt, but his film Redacted is badly-acted and badly-directed trash that fails to do justice to the very real and serious issue of the actions of American troops in Iraq. It might go down well with an audience that really needs it to be told to them in a simplistic manner and a dramatic format that they can understand, and there certainly is a case for dramatisation and artistic licence being used to convey truths, but Redacted demonstrates no convincing new insights or any ability to make a statement that is worthy of the seriousness of the subject. Optimum’s DVD release presents the film well and includes some rather more relevant extra features, but the quality of the presentation only highlights the actual film’s flaws.