With “Scarface” and “Body Double” on his resume, director Brian De Palma is hardly a stranger to violence and controversy. But he’s never made a movie like “Redacted.”
Dumping his trademark stylized approach, he shot the scorching Iraq war drama in just 18 days on digital video. Depicting the boredom, frustration and unpredictable carnage U.S. troops face, it also dramatizes the real-life case of a group of loutish soldiers who rape a teenage Iraqi girl, then kill her and her family.
Izzy Diaz, Rob Devaney, Patrick Carroll, Kel O'Neill, Ty Jones, Daniel Stewart Sherman
(Magnolia Pictures; US theatrical: 16 Nov 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 21 Mar 2008 (Limited release); 2007)
You must really be angry.
No, quite to the contrary. I was quite excited about using this new form. The people (Mark Cuban’s 2929 Entertainment) came to me, and they have this program, and they give you $5 million and you can do anything you want. You just have to shoot it on high-definition.
And when I read about the story in Iraq that’s very familiar to my picture “Casualties of War.” I said, “Well, how do I tell the story again?” And in the process of researching it I found all these digital forms on the Internet that I used to become the narrative of the movie.
Why tell the same story—even if this one’s based on a true case?
Because I feel “Casualties of War” is a great metaphor for our involvement in Vietnam, and the symbolic destruction and raping of the country is what’s played out in what the squad does to this innocent farm girl. And this is essentially what happened in Iraq. And of course what really is close to the heart here is I lived through Vietnam, and now I’m watching the same people my age prosecute a war where they have learned absolutely nothing from our experience in Vietnam.
So you’re still maintaining that you weren’t angry at all?
What’s the significance of the title?
I feel that what they did learn, the architects of this war, was that in order to prosecute a war like that, you must redact all the images from the mainstream media, and that’s what they did. Because the images of Vietnam is what got the people out in the street, and the fear of being drafted is what brought that war to an end. So they figured out a way in order to avoid all those things in this war.
What are you showing or telling that people haven’t been seeing?
Have you seen any pictures of any fallen American soldiers?
Not a great deal.
Why not? Don’t you think their combat and what they’ve done and what they’ve sacrificed is worth us seeing? We certainly saw it in the Civil War, we saw it in Korea, we saw it in Vietnam, we saw it in the Second World War. Why aren’t we seeing it in this war?
Why don’t you tell me?
Because images will make you say “What are we doing there?” And why are we forcing or making or have a policy to put these soldiers in that type of peril?
You’ve got a vile, fat, stupid character in the film named “Rush.” I take it this means subtlety was out and it’s sledgehammer time.
No, that character’s very much based on a character in “Casualties of War.”
Can you elaborate?
Well, there are some people in the Army that have very strong views and are very unhappy where they are and they don’t like the people that they’re supposedly protecting. And I read this in blogs and saw this in documentaries.
Current war-related movies haven’t done well at the box office. Four years into the war, why are artists just now starting to speak out? And conversely, is there also a sense that it’s too soon, since the war—or occupation—is still in progress?
No. People that have lived through the Vietnam War and the Cold War are the people that are fast to react to say, “Oh, I’ve seen this before. Why are we repeating this?” And when you see the spin doctors and the way things are presented in the media that whitewashes what’s going on, and the blatant lies—I mean, I grew up in the ‘50s. We weren’t used to our politicians lying to us.
I take your point about the mainstream media, and yet I’m putting you on the cover of our section. You know what’s annoying about “MSM” complaints? A lot of them come from people who are in the mainstream and in the media.
(Long pause.) Well, there is no question that we were lied into this war. Will you accept that?
So, then it looks like the mainstream media, even going up to the stories planted in The New York Times, were kind of complicit in that. Do we have to go through Judy Miller and the weapons of mass destruction?
No, that’s all documented.
So here we have a system where the reporters are being leaked stories in order to get their byline on the front pages of their newspapers, in order to celebrate their particular professions, which are in fact lies, and then the administration officials are quoting The New York Times as a source that’s not them. Now is that a complicit relationship between the so-called watchdogs, the Fourth Estate, and the administration?
Somebody’s been lying down on the job at the very least.
Well, and what is the cause of that and why has that happened? I think it’s quite obvious, is that you become famous, you become rich, if your byline is on the front page of The New York Times. And maybe you’ll get a talk show, and maybe you’ll get a book to promote—which is something I say in the movie. It’s what Lawyer McCoy says to Salazar, which is essentially, he’s sort of a representative of the media in his little form there.
Right, the guy with the camcorder.
“Redacted” is already starting arguments. You’ve got Bill O’Reilly on your case. Doesn’t that actually help you?
I don’t really know. I mean these people sort of rant and rave about God knows what every day. I don’t know how much penetration it has in terms of doing a publicity tour for something. Maybe? But as I say, I watch a lot of these shows, and they’re always teeing off on something every day. So it’s like what’s red meat for today?
I’m going to read you some criticism from the message board on your IMDb page and ask you to respond: “He picks out the worst of us and ignores the best.” “... Propaganda against our soldiers and gives aid and comfort to the enemy.” “It might not be like Jane Fonda in Vietnam (treason in my opinion). But it comes as close as possible.”
(Long pause.) Well I feel, basically I’m showing something about the soldiers that has not been expressed in the mainstream media at all. This is stuff that exists in the documentaries and the blogs that I’ve read. So I’m presenting another aspect to them, which is perfectly understandable. It’s no different than the soldiers that I dramatized or directed in “Casualties of War.”
And it’s just trying to show what happens when you send boys into this particular situation. In the movie it states quite clearly that this is an isolated incident, these are bad apples, it does not indict the whole corps. It’s just showing why guys do stuff like that. I want to know why. And I want to know the circumstances in which this occurs.
I’m rather upset by the fact that we’re destroying our Army in a war that makes no sense. That’s what gets me really mad. Of course I support the troops, but what are we telling them to do? What are we doing over there? I would like to have them protecting the homeland but in a situation which makes a little sense.
Every scene and image in the movie comes from a camcorder, surveillance cam, foreign documentary footage—sources that could plausibly have captured the story in real life. Why did you decide to trade your style, which is more attention-grabbing, for that?
Because I think it’s important to let the audience know that even though this appears to be a documentary in many ways and real material, it’s all fiction and you will believe it anyway. So all that stuff you’re watching on television, just because it’s on your screen in the news hour does not necessarily mean it’s true.