d. Brian De Palma / USA / 2007 / 87 mins
Viewed on: Region 2 DVD (UK)
Like any film that concerns itself with war – whether on the front line or in the corridors of power – Redacted is chiefly a story about interruption. War interrupts the daily lives of soldiers, leaving their friends and family to be sent half way around the world to fight in a strange country, or forced to readjust to a strange conflict inside their own. It also interrupts the local population, forced to adjust their lives to the oppressive nature of wartime occupation. In a broader sense, it interrupts the rest of world, as they collectively hold their breath in the hope of a swift and decisive end to the conflict.
With Redacted, Brian De Palma has applied such themes to the current conflict in Iraq, portraying the war itself as one long interruption. Even in the safety of the Green Zones, soldiers eke out an existence of continual interruption. One soldier can hardly read a single page of his novel without being taunted by the others. When he tries to read a passage directly to camera, he is interrupted once again. Whilst on patrol, another soldier is reprimanded (and then chastised) for interacting with the locals.
In an environment governed by interruption, by the horrible, futile inevitability of conflict, De Palma has crafted this morally and politically ambiguous chunk of wartime docudrama as a companion piece to his earlier Vietnam foray, Casualties of War (1989).
Loosely based on the real-life rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl and her family, at the hands of U.S. soldiers, De Palma frames the Redacted narrative with a variety of motion imagery devices; from the personal video diaries of film school aspirant Salazar (Izzy Diaz) to footage shot by a French documentary crew, as well as CCTV and the online video postings from soldiers’ families, angry U.S. citizens and Iraqi insurgents. If Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006) was the first film adaptation of a PowerPoint presentation, it seems tempting to regard Redacted as the first film adaptation of a Google video search.
Rather than contributing to a more inclusive sense of involvement for the viewer, De Palma’s choice of so many clunky stylistic framing devices, contributes directly to Redacted‘s overwhelmingly detached aesthetic. The confusion of viewpoints is most likely intended as a reflection of the confusion that reigns over the war environment – particularly in a conflict such as Iraq, where long stretches of inactivity are framed by short, sharp bursts of violent punctuation (itself another form of interruption) – yet something else seems fundamentally amiss with Redacted.
De Palma’s attempt to show particular events from every conceivable angle – which feels, at times, like Rashômon directed by an ADD-afflicted John Woo – has the obvious disadvantage of missing a myriad of wider points about the Iraq conflict and U.S. military aggression in general. There is a sense, of course, that the only way to make any progress tackling the whole is to focus intently on the part.
But as much as De Palma might want to be critical of the war, particularly regarding its handling on the ground, and the amount of pressure this places squarely upon the shoulders of his characteristically naïve grunts, Redacted comes across as extremely wary of making any real judgement.
Whilst many American commentators suggested that the film is flawed precisely because it does not depict the subsequent trial and prosecution of the soldiers involved (a process well underway in real-life), it is the lack of judgment about the war in general which contributes to its downfall.
This is not to suggest that all war films should be judgemental (some of the best ones are anything but), however by selecting such an event as the basis for his film, and positioning his characters as he has, De Palma is somehow obliged to either follow through with a judgement, or accept the view that Redacted is something of a failed endeavour. In many ways, De Palma should also be praised for his rather open-ended conclusion, although it too raises questions about the film’s moral and political ambiguity.
As the credits roll, the moral and political ambiguity of Redacted (and, by extension, De Palma) becomes abundantly clear as the waters are further muddied by the inclusion of a list of ‘Product Placement Thanks’. Anyone who had been fooled, up to this point, into thinking they had watched eighty-odd minutes of brave, honest anti-war filmmaking, produced at a remove from the corrupting system that fostered the war in the first place, are delivered a very rude awakening.
Amongst the credits – after a montage of gruesome and horrific war images – De Palma and his Producers (clearly unaware of the inherent irony) thank numerous luminaries of the military-industrial complex, including Samsung, Toshiba and Panasonic (all electronics manufacturers who have developed goods for military means, earning shedloads of money in the process).
Most notable among the ‘Product Placement Thanks’ is Nokia, a long-term army supplier across the world and a recent industrial partner of Siemens, a company notorious for their operation of factories which were converted into Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. More pertinent to the Middle East, however, is a Nokia-Siemens partnership which sparked controversy – albeit since the release of Redacted – for its plans to provide Iran with telecommunication systems that would allow unprecedented monitoring of its already repressed citizens.
All this is not to suggest that films should be made without the assistance of these companies, or that we should somehow boycott every product that has an investment in the military-industrial complex, these are businesses after all, and military is big, big business.
But with Redacted, Brian De Palma (and his Producers) seem to be taking goods and/or money from such organisations on the one hand, and seeming to preach against the interests of these organisations on the other. Call it an act of subversion if you will, but it seems to be just another symptom of the confused creative approach to a frequently confusing war.