TIFF07 REVIEW: Redacted [2007]

“Welcome to the goddamn army”

Our final foray with the 2007 Toronto Film Festival screenings was Brian De Palma’s Redacted, a film about what is going on in Iraq that the government doesn’t want the public to know. All those black scribbles on documents and censored video coverage are examples of redaction and this movie aims to show the world the ugly truth, unfiltered. As the director said after the showing, the movie is “fictionalized for lawyer purposes,” but actually based on footage and accounts that he found on the internet. A rape/murder at the hands of two soldiers occurred in Samarra, causing a backlash from Americans being posted widespread online. De Palma says that he read the stories and responses, thinking back to his film Casualties of War and how it was happening all over again. With all the legal tape that would have been involved had he decided to just make a documentary, (the soldiers accused are at trial now), he chose to recreate the events and mask reality with fiction. The end result is a powerful and brutal document, (definitely not for the faint of heart), about the atrocities of war and some of the bad seeds going off course—power-hungry with ego, restlessness, and a feeling that death may be coming to them at any moment. There is already controversy surrounding the film after being screened just two weeks ago in Venice and now here in Canada. It has found distribution in the US and will only spark more backlash and support once seen by the world at large. I will say this: it is a film that should be watched for the ingenuity of the digital film media and the power it exudes. However, I do not agree with the anti-war sentiment it tries to push, nor do I think the film is necessarily something that needs to be seen. Everyone knows the horrible things that go on over there, whether through the news, documentaries, or knowledge from relatives that know firsthand. Like De Palma says, all this can be found for yourself online, and as a result, the film will not change anyone’s mind because it only puts a visual with what we already know, those that have made viewpoints on the subject won’t be swayed. I do appreciate the fact that De Palma wants to try and start a dialogue about the war and make aware what is happening, though, so people know, as he did during Vietnam, and, if anything, Redacted will ignite that discussion.

Telling a faux-documentary is something that has been done many times in the past. Do not let this impact your desire to see another example, as De Palma has taken it upon himself to almost take the “faux” completely out. We are told the story by multiple cameras set-up at fixed points. One of the soldiers is a film student hopeful that brings his camera along with him everywhere, getting footage for the film that will grant him admission. Much of the movie is seen through this viewpoint, but while it is at the forefront, it can’t show every side. Along with it, we have a film crew from France and their reporting named “Barrage,” we have the security camera located where the troops have smoke breaks, and also the world wide web, including YouTube-like movies, Al-Jazeera-like footage, and even an iChat conversation between one soldier and his father. All the media bases are covered and De Palma takes great care in making them as realistic as possible. The events captured are things that you would never be able to see in America through legal channels. The death videos, by explosion or beheading, would not be shown on US television, but they are easily accessible by the internet and foreign means. This is the crux of what the film sets out to show, how, as De Palma retorts, “the forth estate has been completely co-opted by the administration.” Why must we search out the truth when the media could give it to us first?

This underlying theme is helped expressed so effectively because of the wonderful acting at hand. Every scene was mapped out before, but since they were filmed in continuous digital camera shots, almost all sequences were ad-libbed for realism. Each actor went through a two-week boot camp and was able to interview army soldiers in preparation for the role, but in the end, they created who their role would be and ran with it. The four actors that attended the screening seemed very proud of the film and the message that they are expressing with it. The shoot was hard and fast and one must give them a lot of credit for creating such a realistic end result. Between main filming and the second unit footage used for the “Barrage” moments, everything was put to camera in 18 days. Special mention should be made for Patrick Carroll, Rob Devaney, and Kel O’Neill, (who showed his great sense of humor during the Q&A), for really shining above all else.

When all is said and done, though, Redacted is a film that means well, but in my opinion will fall on deaf ears. Nothing is shown that is not already known or seen with a little light web surfing. With that said, it has the potential to blow-up in controversy. Many will see the anti-war bent as a detriment to morale, showing just a few bad eggs that end up standing in for the entire army. In this regard, I feel De Palma is doing exactly what the media is doing, showing all the bad things with little redemptive quality to show that the army is not all evil. These boys are protecting our safety over there and the question should be about whether we still need to do tours in Iraq, not whether atrocities go on there unpunished. We need to address training and superiority accountability because ending the war and bringing the boys back home doesn’t solve the problem. If the horrors of Vietnam have found themselves back today, what will stop it from happening again next time?

Redacted 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] Rob Devaney and Patrick Carroll in REDACTED, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[2] Mike Figueroa in REDACTED, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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