National Public Radio's arts-and-culture show "Fresh Air" recently displayed how its leftist ideology trumps artistic judgment, especially when it comes to movies designed to get America out of Iraq before our crazed soldiers senselessly kill more civilians. Film critic David Edelstein lauded Brian De Palma's new movie "Redacted" as a "laudable artistic response to an unpopular war," even as he conceded the movie is terrible as a work of art.
Edelstein knew some people hated the exploitative display of Iraqi corpses at the film's end, noting that De Palma thinks rubbing Americans' faces with the collateral damage will get us out of Iraq: "I think most Americans are immune to those techniques, but I respect his impulse. 'Redacted' is a crude piece of work but it's the kind of outright agitprop that rarely makes it to the big screen."
Edelstein also claims the movie centered around savage rape and murder by American troops isn't anti-troops: "But it's an act of sympathy to suggest that soldiers on their third tours of duty in a place where they have no knowledge of the culture, where they can't tell who's on their side and who wants to blow them up, stand a good chance of losing both their moral compass and their minds." Here's the transcript from the November 16 review:
DAVID EDELSTEIN: Brian De Palma's "Redacted" is a fictionalized account of the rape of an Iraqi teenager by US soldiers and the murder of her and her family. The reviews have been terrible, even from the director's champions. The defense -- that's me -- will concede almost every point. The movie is heavy handed and punishing, the acting stilted, but I think of it as a charcoal sketch of a movie, something scribbled furiously out of the director's sense of outrage and impotence. And I think it represents, along with many recent and imperfect films, from "In the Valley of Elah" to "Rendition" to "Lions for Lambs," a laudable, artistic response to an unpopular war.
In content, "Redacted" could be a sequel to De Palma's 1989 "Casualties of War." In form, it could not be more different. De Palma dispenses with the multilayered tracking shots that have become his signature. He seems to be saying there's no time for aesthetics, that the film has to be in the present tense. So we get an assemblage of fake documentary footage, much of it from soldiers' camcorders.
For another view, De Palma intercuts a fake French documentary about Americans at a security checkpoint in Samarra. That so-called documentary contains "Redacted"'s best scene, which features a long, long shot of an approaching car from the soldier's perspective. Closer and closer it comes, and neither we nor they know who's inside the vehicle. De Palma makes you understand on a visceral level how it feels to live with uncertainty for a moment, never mind day after day for months.
But the center of the movie is the rape and murder, a whim that hardens into an obsession.
(Soundbite of "Redacted")
Unidentified Actor #1: (In character) We got to go back to that house.
Unidentified Actor #2: (In character) Yes.
Unidentified Actor #3: (In character) What are you talking about, man? What house?
Actor #1: (In character) That house we raided last week.
Unidentified Actor #4: (In character) I didn't see any orders about that.
Actor #3: (In character) What house we raided?
Actor #1: (In character) Dude, we're going to...(unintelligible).
Actor #2: (In character) (Unintelligible)...house, that's right.
Actor #3: (In character) Come on, guys.
Actor #4: (In character) What are you guys talking about? That's not--we just...
Actor #3: (In character) There's nothing in that house.
Actor #4: (In character) We were there. Yeah. There was nothing to start. I mean...
Actor #1: (In character) I wouldn't say that that tasty skank is nothing.
Actor #2: (In character) We're going to take some initiative and go to that house.
Actor #4: (In character) That has nothing to do with it.
Actor #2: (In character) She's a spoil of war.
Actor #1: (In character) That's right. That's exactly right.
Actor #3: (In character) Oh God.
Actor #4: (In character) OK. You guys are...(word censored by network)...crazy. You're drunk, so it's good.
Actor #3: (In character) Come on. They're drunk. They're drunk.
Actor #2: (In character) Dude, we're all drunk.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: It's not subtle writing. Two of the four soldiers are gung-ho, one driven around the bend by seeing a superior blown to pieces, the other a true sociopath. But there's also a would-be filmmaker who hopes a video he shoots of the assault will be his ticket to film school. The fourth wants no part in the crime and runs away. He blows the whistle too late to save the family and too late to stop the eventual retaliation against American soldiers.
The rape scene has led to a familiar charge, that De Palma is a misogynist who relishes violence against women. Yes, he's attracted to material in which women are victims of male sexual rage, but apart from "Body Double," a thumbing of his nose at feminists who attacked him for "Dressed to Kill" and a big mistake, he wants to explore that rage, not eroticize or perpetuate it. No one who sees the suffering faces of the victims in "Redacted" and "Casualties of War" could be turned on.
Another charge is that he's anti-American or anti-troops. But it's an act of sympathy to suggest that soldiers on their third tours of duty in a place where they have no knowledge of the culture, where they can't tell who's on their side and who wants to blow them up, stand a good chance of losing both their moral compass and their minds. Here, and in "Casualties of War," De Palm is dramatizing the idea that even decent people in such circumstances can convince themselves they're entitled to do anything.
"Redacted" has a notorious postscript, photos of actual Iraqi corpses, mostly women and children. I averted my eyes, and I'm of two minds about them. On one hand, they don't belong in an otherwise fictionalized depiction. On the other, De Palma thinks and has said he can stop the war by rubbing our noses in the so-called collateral damage. I think most Americans are immune to those techniques, but I respect his impulse. "Redacted" is a crude piece of work but it's the kind of outright agitprop that rarely makes it to the big screen.