It was at last year's TIFF that Brian De Palma was approached by the guys from HDNet, who made him their 'five million' offer -- we'll give you five million dollars to make any film you want. The film he decided to make was, surprisingly, one he's already made -- 1989's Casualties of War. Redacted tells the same story, of a company of Army grunts who take part -- some willingly, some reluctantly -- in the rape and murder of a young girl. The key difference is that De Palma adopts what I can only describe as a 'bloggy' style to film his movie, instead of using traditional dramatic techniques. We frequently get plot points delivered to us via suspiciously Youtube-like video screens, we watch video letters from the troops to their loved ones back home and vice versa, and most importantly, we see through a home video camera being used by one of the main characters, Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz.) Salazar is a grunt who plans to attach his documentary war footage to his application for film school after he returns home.
Those who go to Redacted looking for the traditional quirks of De Palma will probably not be disappointed; in addition to the video screens that recall the director's obsession with split-screen, there are also several panoramic shots that echo earlier films like The Untouchables, with one in particular standing out. The camera is placed in the inside of an Iraqi car that is approaching a U.S. military checkpoint, more or less up against the windshield, and as it turns and swerves through the curves of the checkpoint, we see the increasingly agitated faces of the soldiers – agitated because this car is not stopping. All good stuff, but the film has other peculiarities that aren't so successful, such as a decision to add unnecessary subtitles to some sections, and to more or less dump the main narrative in the closing moments in favor of showing stills of dead Iraqis. Even though these stills are explicitly titled as being authentic, during a Q&A after a screening here at TIFF, one of the producers acknowledged that some of them were created by De Palma's team.
The film also steps wrongly in allowing its crucial sequence -- the rape and the immediate aftermath -- to be upstaged by something even more jarring and, some might argue, unnecessarily graphic. Specifically – and consider this a spoiler alert -- we abruptly stop seeing through the eyes of Salazar's home movie camera when he is nabbed off the street by a bunch of jihadis in a van. That scene is expertly staged, as you'd expect from De Palma, but it then goes to the next level, with the film giving us an extremely graphic scene of Salazar being beheaded and his headless body being dumped in a field. His head is placed on top of his chest, an image which the camera lingers over. Did DePalma really need to include these images? What is the value of actually showing Salazar's decapitated head several times, if not just to make the audience squirm? Some people at my screening nearly screamed at those images, and presumably forgot all about the main thrust of the narrative, which is about the rape and murder of the villager.
Redacted profits by its eccentric style in some respects, but doesn't ever truly gel as a cohesive motion picture. Despite being an obviously personal piece for De Palma, it's still relatively unfocused and scattershot, to the point that only a few of the acting performances are even allowed to breathe. One that does stand out is the performance of TV actor Rob Devaney as Lawyer, whose role is close to the Michael J. Fox role in Casualties of War. Devaney's profile up to now has been a mostly comedic one, but here he shows skillful acting chops that other directors will hopefully pick up on. A young actor named Patrick Carroll also does good work as the Sean Penn stand-in -- a guy named