Brian De Palma has attempted to give us the Iraq occupation’s answer to his 1989 "Casualties of War" in "Redacted," a "fictional documentary" about the rape of a 15-year-old Iraqi girl and subsequent murder of both her and her family by US soldiers. The wounds are fresher in the case of "Redacted," which is based on the March 2006 rape and murder of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi, as well as images and characterizations based on blogs, YouTube videos and reports from the press â€” one might observe that we’re actually still in the process of gouging new wounds out. De Palma has already kicked up plenty of dirt with the film, which
premiered at Venice and instantly drew the ire of members of the
perma-angry right, most visibly Bill O’Reilly, who claimed it would incite presumably hitherto nonviolent young Muslim men
to blow themselves up in indie cinema-induced rage. (An O’Reilly
spokesperson later noted
that the pundit had only seen clips of the film.) Do we need a film
that portrays the troops in a negative light? Of course not. We don’t need
a film about anything; that idea that the world turns on whether or not
an event is committed to film or digital video and projected on a screen
is beyond arrogant.
What we do need are actors who can act, dialogue that makes basic concessions toward believability and some level of, you know, filmmaking, particularly in a work tromping into such a sensitive area. "The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people," De Palma told reporters at Venice. But there are plenty of versions of that reality that have already made their way through the same arthouse theaters that De Palma’s film will â€” they’re called Iraq documentaries, and distributors run screaming from them because there are so many floating around the marketplace and festivals. The Iraq war is the most documented news event in history â€” not as freely by the American mainstream press (one of the film’s beefs) but by filmmakers, international press and the soldiers themselves. In the face of all that nonfiction footage, it seems fair to ask that a scripted film come up with something more than a maladroit array of limp "war makes monsters of us all" archetypes. Here’s the bookish one (Kel O’Neill), with glasses, reading "Appointment in Samarra." Here’s the Animal Mother clone (Patrick Carroll), from Louisiana, comparing his first kill to "guttin’ a catfish," while his sidekick, Evil Chris Farley (Daniel Stewart Sherman) gives us a millennial update of "Casualties of War"’s "what happens in the bush stays in the bush" â€” we’ll let you guess; it’s the ad slogan of a major American tourist destination. De Palma’s big idea is to have the film fake being a montage of footage from outsider sources, a soldier’s video diary, a French documentary, local news coverage, security cameras and web videos, but the voices are all just the filmmaker’s own, scarcely disguised. The one moment of genuine frisson comes from the film’s reenactment of taped beheading; De Palma has always known his way around gore.
We’ll give "Redacted" this â€” it’s been ages since we’ve felt as riled up over a film as we did shuffling out of this screening. To take on such a topic and then fumble it so badly reveals in De Palma either profound arrogance or a general contempt for the American people he’s apparently looking to inform. That the film will be prime, indefensible fodder for the next round of attacks on liberal, "out of touch" Hollywood is just the cherry on top.
"Redacted" screens October 10 at 6pm and October 11 at 9pm at Frederick P. Rose Hall. It opens November 16th in limited release from Magnolia.