There must be plenty of American soldiers who don’t go around raping and murdering innocent civilians. Apparently though, those aren’t the kind Brian De Palma is interested in. Almost 20 years ago, in Casualties Of War, he recreated one such atrocity from Vietnam, and now he does so again - this time focusing on a 2006 war crime perpetrated by five US grunts in Iraq. “Once again a senseless war has produced a senseless tragedy,” De Palma rues. So why does Redacted have only a fraction of Casualties’ impact?
For that you need only look at the director’s central conceit – having the grim details of the tragedy refracted through a variety of third persons. A young GI (Izzy Diaz) with ambitions to be a director films his fellow soldiers, one of whom is caught shooting a pregnant woman at a checkpoint by a French camera crew.
When the locals retaliate, we see the results streamed on a terrorist website. Surveillance cameras record racist private Flake (Patrick Carroll) plot a revenge, which is subsequently taped by an embedded journalist. When the truth comes out, it does so via television news bulletins…
This is supposed to present the unvarnished facts so often censored (or “redacted”) by the corporate media. What it actually does is the opposite. Where Cloverfield used “found footage” to make a fanciful notion appear credible, De Palma’s artful posing makes the truth itself seem phoney. Even when a character is being decapitated, the evidence of a director’s controlling hand forestalls empathy.
It’s left to a closing photo montage of real-life ‘collateral damage’ to hammer the point home. But would such gruesome shock tactics have been necessary had the movie been capable of achieving the desired effect?