The Movie of the Year

October 9, 2007

Once the wingers get done beating up on a 12-year-old boy for daring to question the wisdom of King George, their next target will have to be Redacted, the upcoming Iraq War drama directed by Brian De Palma.

Early reports trickling out from the film festivals make it clear this is going to be a real bruiser of a film. Here’s the latest word:

“Redacted” (the practice of censoring inflammatory information from the public) tells its story through ‘found’ footage: the video diary of a soldier with film school aspirations, an artful French documentary, international news coverage, terrorist home video footage, and YouTube snippets. It concerns a group of soldiers going stir crazy in Samarra , two of which end up raping and murdering a fifteen year old girl and her family. It is based on true events, although there has been a lot of furor over De Palma’s exacerbation of the truth. This film is the Iraq war distilled, stripped down to its most disturbing facets. Regardless of how close to the specific events De Palma got here, he captured one of the ugliest aspects of humanity that is universal to any major war. The fictionalization of real events almost shields this film from a lot of the flack it’s going to get on a political level, but there should be no reason to believe that there isn’t a degree of accuracy here. These events have occurred for millennia, but it’s only now that the effects on the world are immediate. Filmmakers in most countries are able to make brave and vital comments on war and politics as they occur, with little fear of repercussion. The found footage structure reinforces this sense of immediacy; before the Iraq war is even over we have a visceral and powerful anti-war film that serves as a giant middle finger to everyone involved. A handful of people walked out of the screening, one even muttered “that’s fucking disgusting” on his way out (he was incensed by a scene that replicated the Nick Berg beheading.) There were similar reactions to the chainsaw sequence in “Scarface.”

It should be apparent by this point in the review that Brian De Palma has some serious balls. Perhaps we forgot in the last decade, as he gave us bewildering failures like “ Mission to Mars” and “Snake Eyes.” My personal favorite De Palma movie is “Body Double,” but he has a number of entries on my extensive Greatest of All Time List. “Redacted” is a savage attack on American foreign policy, the stereotypical American soldier, and the impotence of those that oppose the war. This is the closest we’ve gotten to “Full Metal Jacket” since Gomer Pyle put a bullet in his brain (“Jarhead” not-withstanding.) “Redacted” doesn’t depict all American soldiers as sociopaths, De Palma simply illustrates the tendency for sociopaths to lead the way. The implications of this notion on a larger scale are scary. Some of the scenes in this film are incredibly affecting, particularly the final montage of actual stills from the Iraq war. The closing shot in particular is tough to stomach, especially considering the fiction that precedes it. This film stunned the VIFF audience into silence, the applause was sparse and people shuffled out in a daze. I don’t interpret that as a negative reaction; I think people were genuinely stirred by this film. I can’t wait to see the uproar when it comes out in December, and wonder how long the “support our troops” mantra can hold out under this type of critical scrutiny.

As we know, the people chanting “support the troops” will keep doing it even as their monarch in the White House treats soldiers like dirt, pinned down in Iraq, overextended and undermanned, allowing them to die a few at a time in service of his lies. “Critical scrutiny” is not part of their skill set.

But it will be interesting to hear their illulations and see if any of them venture past the usual vapid Medved-style complaints about “Hollywood values” we heard from Bush only last week. I’m far from a De Palma fan — he’s got style to spare, but in the past his idea of “provocation” has been vapid stunts like Dressed to Kill and Body Double, where he baited the critics who accused him of being a Hitchcock imitator by imitating Hitchcock even more closely. (Take that, Andrew Sarris!) In the latter part of his career, on work-for-hire projects like The Untouchables, his stylings were a little more bearable, but there was no sense that he would ever be a filmmaker capable of serious, demdning work. The closest he came was with Casualties of War, which concerned an atrocity during the Vietnam War, but the film ended up as a shambles, put across mainly through the force of Sean Penn’s performance.

But if Redacted comes across even a fraction as forcefully as I think it will, all that will be forgiven.

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