As ham-fisted and angry and awkward as it often is, Redacted has something more on its mind than telling another bad-day-in-country story. It doubts the very possibility of telling truth in a war zone.


Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Izzy Diaz, Rob Devaney, Patrick Carroll, Kel O'Neill, Ty Jones, Daniel Stewart Sherman
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2008-03-21 (Limited release)
US Release Date: 2007-11-16 (Limited release)
[Embedded reporters will] tell sympathetic stories about the soldiers they're with because the soldiers are protecting them and they feel very heartfelt things about them. And they're not going to take pictures of anything the soldiers are doing that's going to make them look bad. But that's not what they're supposed to do. They're reporters.

-- Brian De Palma, Salon (13 November 2007)

"Welcome to the oven," narrates Pfc. Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), "a.k.a. Camp Carolina, our home away from home in this godforsaken country." He notes the stench, shoots the barracks, and calls to his buddies to smile as he turns the camera on them. He means to keep a "war diary," he says, a sure ticket into film school. With his eye on a distant prize, Angel tries hard not to see where he's at or what he's doing.

Angel's footage -- which makes up the start of Brian De Palma's Redacted -- is all about his fellow troops, their complaints about "hajji retards" and arguments among themselves, their terminal naïvete and brutal arrogance. They call each other "pussies" and show their differences: McCoy (Rob Devaney) reads Hustler, Gabe (Kel O'Neill) John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra ("It's the basic book-cover situation," he explains, "Don't judge a book by its cover"). Angel points his camera at Pfc. Flake (Patrick Carroll), "Your average grunt," with a confederate flag pillow. "He's completely in touch with his primal self," says Angel, "He's one of our latest recruits, from way down the bottom of the gumbo barrel." He's also trouble. You've seen this movie before.

So have the guys in it. As ham-fisted and angry and awkward as it often is, Redacted has something more on its mind than telling another bad-day-in-country story. It doubts the very possibility of telling truth in a war zone. Sometimes, the characters speak to such doubts: intellectual Gabe protests Angel's project on "official" grounds ("If you have a camera, you're part of the media," he says, "and we're under strict orders not to talk to the media"), but moralistic McCoy submits a cliché as reality. He pulls out his own camera and points it at Angel, so they film each other filming. "The first casualty of this entire conflict?" he says, "It's gonna be the truth."

These brief exchanges indicate one of Redacted's essential arguments. It's not just that the war is bad, based on administration lies and turning young troops into confused victims and traumatized killers. It's that the media have lost any semblance of integrity in their reporting of the war. True, the Daily Show generation has long since lost faith in the news' ability to speak truth to power (reporters being embedded with and indebted to sources in combat zones and elsewhere), but Redacted indicts all so-called information sources, from TV to the movies to the net. Beginning with Angel's tape (he names his opus "Tell Me No Lies"), De Palma's "fictional documentary" assembles a range of materials -- a somber "French-made" documentary (Barrage, "un film de Marc et Francois Clement," records the daily travails of soldiers manning a checkpoint in Samarra), Western and Iraqi news clips, video off Arabic internet sites, in which insurgents set IEDs and record the explosive results, and a U.S.-based "tattooed girl" (Abigail Savage) imagines payback for criminal U.S. soldiers: local Iraqis, she says, "should be given baseball bats, white hot branding irons, blowtorches, dull knives, pliers, and of course, rocks, and be told to go to town."

Rage and revenge are not helpful responses, the film submits, even if they are understandable, given chronically false and limited information. The problem, according to Redacted, is pervasive corporate, military, and administration collusion, the power structure no longer separate from those who might speak to it. As if to illustrate, De Palma's film also arrives in theater with some free publicity, courtesy of Bill O'Reilly. The controversy seems to concern the film's depiction of U.S. troops committing war crimes, such depiction constituting an "unpatriotic" act in and of itself. Inspired by a 2006 case in which American troops in Mahmoudiya raped a schoolgirl and then murdered her and her family in an effort to make the crime look like the work of "insurgents," the film does include disturbing imagery -- both Angel's inadvertent footage of his sergeant's (Ty Jones) death by IED and night-visioned shots of the rape committed by Angel's buddies, Flake and Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman).

Redacted's multiple accounts of the troops' frustrations and errors in judgment hardly justify Flake and Rush's monstrosity. When the men are informed that their deployment in Samarra is extended, Rush is undone. "I swear to God," he moans, "It's like that Clerks movie, you know, where the guy has to work on his day off and all kinds of crazy shit happens and all he keeps thinking is, 'Oh man, I'm not even supposed to be here today.'" McCoy sighs, less in commiseration than instruction: "None of us is supposed to be here." Rush can't hear this ("We're sittin' ducks," he wails), and only silenced when the sergeant steps to him: "Welcome to the goddamn army. We all wanna fucking go home. We can't so stand the fuck up and be a fucking man about it."

"Being a man about it," for Rush and Flake, means seeking revenge. Brutish and ignorant from jump, they call to mind the dim-witted go-along squad members in De Palma's Casualties of War, in which they kidnap, rape, and murder a Vietnamese girl during the Vietnam war (also based on a true story). Where Sean Penn's performance went a long way toward complicating the dynamics that produced that horror, Redacted is frequently hampered by awkward acting and obvious point-making. Flake, for instance, is never the least bit sympathetic. After he shoots a pregnant woman at the checkpoint, mistaking her for an insurgent, he insists he's acted according to rules of engagement. The relatively reasonable Sgt. Vazques (Mike Figueroa) backs him up, pointing out that it's not their fault if "Most of these fucking people when you put your hand up, they don't know that it means to stop. Most of these Iraqis think I'm waving hello." Flake takes it a next step, telling Angel's camera, "Waxing hajjis is like stomping cockroaches. I've done that and it makes me thirsty, so how 'bout a nice cold beer?"

But there's another way to understand Redacted, apart from its manifest raging and villainizing, or even its protest against irresponsible media production and consumption. This other framework has to do with the costs of war, at every level, quite literally, the bodies that it makes. A final sequence of photos, titled "Collateral Damage," shows only death and reactions to death, mourning, upset, and pain. Te sequence is stunning, whether you see the studio's "redacted" (faces-blurred) version or the director's edit, faces clear. Death, at last, is its own truth, all too visible.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.