Exploitation is Brian De Palma’s preferred medium of address, and he uses it brilliantly. Whether drawing our attention to war crimes (Casualties Of War) or the oppression of female sexuality (Carrie), De Palma has always owned up to the inherent titillation in images of atrocity. Neither ashamed nor apologetic, he pushes boundaries other filmmakers are too embarrassed to assault, and as a result he has been labeled everything from trashy to tasteless. Luckily good taste has never been a requirement of good filmmaking - just ask Russ Meyer or John Waters.

This basic-instinct approach to filmmaking isn’t always successful, but it is seldom less than provocative. And with Redacted, De Palma has made the most provocative - and polarising - film of his career. Replacing Vietnam with Iraq, the director has restaged Casualties Of War for the digital age, yet the film’s reach is further than its immediate subject. Based on a real-life incident, Redacted fictionalises the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl (played by Zahara Al Zubaidi) and the murder of her family by two members of an American military squad stationed in Samarra. The crime is far from the only violence in the movie, but its planning, commission and aftermath are the narrative De Palma uses to illustrate his real subject: in a heavily censored war, where do we find the truth?

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If, as Plato believed, society is shaped by its storytellers, De Palma is interested in the kinds of stories we’re being told. To that end, Redacted is filtered through a variety of visual media, including a self-important faux French documentary (Barrage: A Film by Marc et François Clément), raw surveillance-camera footage and YouTube-style online rants from American civilians and Islamic terrorists. The story unfolds, however, primarily through the handheld lens of Private Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), an aspiring filmmaker who plans to use his digital “war diary” to grease his entry to film school. Salazar’s self-interest comes shockingly into focus when he continues to film as his buddies perpetrate the crimes, thereby acknowledging the complicitness of any filmmaker in images of real-life horror. De Palma is letting no one, least of all himself, off the hook.

Yet Salazar’s camera - which is conveniently present whenever an act of brutality occurs - epitomises the clumsiness and motivationally suspect nature of even firsthand battlefield accounts. (And its owner’s commitment to “telling it how it is” is presented as a laughable, rather than a laudable goal.) Unlike most of the films about Iraq, Redacted portrays a military that’s a catchall for the uneducated and unsocialised; and while many may find this offensive, it’s perfectly in line with the draft-deferring lowering of recruitment standards. In the characters of Specialist Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman), a beefy bully who sleeps beneath a Confederate flag, and the aptly-named Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll), the film locates a callous savagery nurtured by those who need others to do their killing for them.

Deliberately staged to draw attention to the fake immediacy of our news sources, Redacted is constantly reminding us of the images we’re not permitted to see. Urgent and devastating, the film is an awkwardly-composed patchwork of unreliable viewpoints. Somewhere among them, cinema’s greatest voyeur is asking us to question the ways in which we look.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2008
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Controversial story, asking where, in the censored war in Iraq, do we find the truth? Plus read what Brian De Palma said about the film - and the redaction of it, .
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Chris ****1/2

Director: Brian De Palma

Writer: Brian De Palma

Starring: Izzy Diaz, Robe Devaney, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Kel O’Neill, Ty Jones, Zahara Al Zubaidi, Patrick Carroll

Year: 2007

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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