In the years following the start of the second Iraq war, numerous filmmakers tried to grapple with the thorny issues at play there. But few made quite so clinical an approach as Brian De Palma in Redacted. Since many of those films were considered misfires, a different approach might not be such a bad thing. De Palma presents an array of media -- a French documentary, an al-Qaeda website, a blog by a soldier's wife -- as if stockpiling evidence for a trial designed to determine some kind of universal truth. The story's backbone is the amateur footage shot by a soldier named Angel (Izzy Diaz), who hopes to parlay his observations into acceptance at film school after returning home. Through this we meet the five central characters. All of this is fictitious, of course, leaving Redacted in the category of "fictional documentary." The results can feel simplistic and on the nose, but that's partly intentional. De Palma's scenario is constructed specifically to have an every-soldier feel to it, dealing primarily with the brutal rape of an Iraqi teenager and the killing of her family. In this way, De Palma indicts all American soldiers in all wars (accusations of such behavior ran rampant in Vietnam), and even the very mentality engendered by invasions and occupations, regardless of who's doing the invading/occupying. Nor does he let the locals off the hook, intimating that they look the other way when roadside bombs kill American soldiers. De Palma's serious purpose doesn't mean he's overcome by sobriety, however. Some of the camaraderie among soldiers is disturbing, but some is downright funny. In all, the cast of unknowns convinces us they're real grunts just caught up in a cycle far bigger than they are, one that has repeated down through the decades, where no one is really innocent.
by Derek Armstrong review