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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Any Similarities to Persons Living or Dead
by Donald Levit

At the 2007 New York Film Festival, Brian De Palma’s Redacted is before the public as is and cannot now be altered, which is a shame, because this obvious-from-first-credits effort is good for an hour, but then turns sour.

Bucking the tide of Middle East coverage, Ken Burns’s PBS The War returns to the last agreed-on “good” war and, while touching censorship for homeland morale and military security, zeroes in on subjective recollections of those who participated. The De Palma screenplay and film, on the other hand, center around the very recording-reporting process itself of another conflict, increasingly unpopular and unwinnable. Evening news made of Vietnam a “living room” war more immediate than the struggle against the Axis twenty years earlier; technological quantum leaps have made of Iraq a multi-media showcase where political, media and individual impressions compete for credibility and acceptance.

For “the first war movie filmed by soldiers themselves,” Deborah Scranton got miniDV video cameras and mics hooked onto uniforms and weapons to make last year’s The War Tapes. Following opening titles heralding “entirely fiction . . . inspired by a real event” and a typed military release emasculated before our eyes by censor’s penstrokes, Redacted comes to “A War Diary by Pvt. A. Sanchez.” Sometime before deployment, this aspiring Ángel Sánchez (a first feature for Izzy Díaz) introduces, prompts, interviews and camcords platoon mates and himself for the fledgling work which will earn him the money to attend college film school. This is not Saving Private Ryan but will “tell it like it is,” to which it is rejoined that, far from any fighting man, “the first casualty is gonna be the Truth!”

That last is the belabored but accurate theme.

Film calling attention to itself as film, more often than not with successful conviction, the rest is simulacra -- a more accurate word than fashionable re-creations of modern means of communicating facts and opinions. Thus, there is apparently “real” (but admittedly not) actuality footage; and amateur and terrorist/freedom fighter videos and newswomen improbably on the spot for Arabic and Western networks; a book-preface fable and photo stills, blogs and Websites, military inquests that will not result in courts martial or civilian trials; one-on-ones with army psychiatrists; and some sections none of the above, elegiac or speeded up or just “objective” camera eye.

The typical war-film unit, nurse-maided in Iraq by African-American Master Sergeant Sweet (Ty Jones) the “guys” include the sensitive intellectual reader Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney, another first-timer), blood-and-woman-hungry redneck Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll, another feature début) and his dim sadistic sidekick B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman).

Switching here and there from the overview camera perspective to the various individuals’ methods of recording/communicating, the result gives a filmically realistic idea of what is going on among and around American troops at war today. Chronology is not important, nor even cause-and-effect: fear and hatred, boredom and nervousness are, and Redaction is fine so long as it uses its multiple viewpoints/no viewpoint to record, not morality or politics, but the not fully knowable facts of the grunts’ unenviable situation.

So far so good, effective in atmosphere and in making a point, obvious as that is. But, reverting late to the opening 2006 “event,” the film slides into set pieces. That core “incident” is a rape, recorded somehow by someone in night-vision, shown but not ever presented as evidence. Neither uncommon nor remarked on in the atrocity that is war, this particular violation of a teenager is the planned act of soldiers who consciously return to the scene of their earlier raid and whose automatic weapons silence civilian witnesses and intimidate fellow GIs.

The last third is awkwardly acted and imagined, from flat threats at a Lock and Load gate on through interviews and inquiries, blog rants, barroom tears, and a horrid monologue parable intoned from a chair draped in a Confederate flag. Cinema for its first sixty minutes, Redacted then turns into sermon and sums up, tells us, the lesson in case it went unnoticed. 

(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated "R" for strong disturbing violent content including a rape, pervasive language, and some sexual references. )

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