"Redacted" is "inspired" by a 2006 incident in which U.S. troops raped an Iraqi girl, resulting in four convictions, with another trial pending.
It's a repulsive crime that's resulted in a repulsive movie, marred by grotesquely hammy acting and inscrutable presentation by Brian De Palma.
His idea is to couch the rape as a collage of video from different sources - a soldier's digicam video diary, a French documentary, Arab and western news broadcasts, security cameras, AQI Web video and, finally, deposition tapes.
It helps to know that going in. I was frankly baffled by the approach, never sure of the source of the video, and almost always unconvinced by the phony "reality" of the content (a title card describes it as a "documentation" of "fictionalized events," whatever that means).
Much of the footage is culled from the video journal of a Pvt. Salazar (Izzy Diaz), whose diary at first shows us the tedium of life at base camp - a familiar portrait of keyed-up soldiers adjusting to down time.
But this "typical" group of soldiers contains at least two sociopaths whose short fuses are activated by booze, pornography and violence.
I found these characterizations to be nonsensical. One moment, the goons seem to be motivated by genuine anguish over a slain comrade; the next, they are making a ghoulish, dismissive joke of another soldier's beheading.
And what sort of murderous rapist, no matter how demented or drunk, seeks to shroud his misdeeds with a campaign of witness intimidation, then invites a videographer along to document his crimes? This feels like De Palma getting in the way of himself, using the bullies as metaphors for the Bush administration, forgetting that it screws up the rest of the narrative.
Perhaps the worst scene is the one that closes the film. A shell-shocked soldier is prodded at a homecoming celebration to tell a war story. He launches into a searing confession of having witnessed a rape, whereupon the saloon breaks into a chorus of cheers.
This is strange, since the movie seems, by its very title, to suggest that the war proceeds because the truth has been kept from us. Here, though, "Redacted" implies that atrocities occur with the tacit or overt support of the American people. If that were true, maybe the scene wouldn't seem so ridiculous.
De Palma is onto something, though, with his invocation of the Internet. In past wars, Americans counted on Ernie Pyle or perceptive movies and books (rest in peace, Norman Mailer) to relay the point of view of soldiers. Today, we can get detailed accounts of boots on the ground almost in real time, unfiltered, through any number of Web sources.
This might explain the lukewarm response to "In the Valley of Elah," which contains curiously similar scenes of a soldier trying to confess an atrocity to his dismissive, military veteran father.
Folks don't have to wait for Hollywood to inform or interpret or define, and so are underwhelmed when the movies do finally arrive.
Incidentally, "Redacted" is executive-produced by Mark Cuban, and those with access to his HD-NET on-demand service can order the movie at home. *