Is it possible to separate a movie’s politics from the circumstances under which it was made? The critics who pilloried Redacted last month, after its New York Film Festival premiere, seemed to think so. They expressed sympathy for the film’s anti-war agenda, but wouldn’t tolerate its cheap production values and no-star cast. Do these same reviewers imagine that the major studios were beating down Brian De Palma’s door to finance a holiday blockbuster based on an actual rape and murder of a teenaged Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers?
Commissioned by the lowly HDNet Films, Redacted bears the triple albatross of its cable-size budget, its misunderstood ill-repute director and a subject matter — collateral damage — that Americans have been strenuously dodging since August 1945. Like Fahrenheit 9/11, the priority here is to show us everything our journalists have left out. But whereas Michael Moore confined his beef to the D.C. professional class, De Palma launches an insurgent campaign on multiple fronts. Among those he charges with complicity is his audience.
Yes, Redacted imperfectly mimics the new media forms it wants to parody. All the same, it’s the year’s most subversive American film. At a time when the Democratic candidates for president are debating whether to invade Iran or Pakistan next, De Palma steadfastly insists that there’s no such thing as a just war.
No director better appreciates the power of violent images. De Palma closes the film with a series of photographs depicting maimed and dead Iraqi civilians. Citing legal concerns, his producers forced him to redact their faces using black bars. What, you have to ask, are they afraid we’ll see?