Theatrical Review: Brian De Palma
is some cool customer. His camera can linger longingly on a beautiful woman's torso or a bloody, severed corpse, and in the mechanical gaze of his camera, he can feel no pain. In De Palma's heyday, a De Palma film could induce spirited fistfights and high-flying brickbats among film folks -- was De Palma a brilliant creative genius or a stylish rip off artist? This reviewer was ensconced in the later camp, finding De Palma's mannered depictions of sex and violence and his "homages" to other directors (particularly Hitchcock) particularly cringe inducing. His films were loaded with elegantly staged set pieces duplicating scenes from great films of the past, only devoid of any depth or meaning (take a peek at Obsession), and larded with peek-a-boo sexploitation and exploitative acts of random violence. As the years wore on, De Palma's voyeurism curdled into the diseased sex and violence romps of Femme Fatale and The Black Dahlia
. Now with Redacted, shot on HD video with a cast of unknowns, De Palma proves you can't keep a good sadist down. Paring away his stylistic crutches, glorifying in an unmediated roughness, De Palma mines an atrocity committed by American soldiers in Iraq as grist for another hat trick of cynical exploitation.
Based upon the 2006 rape of a 15-year-old girl and the murder of her family by a group of American troops in Mahmoudiya in Iraq, the film bears more than a passing resemblance to Casualties of War, his exploitative examination of a similar incident during the Vietnam War. In fact, it is Casualties of War. Article continues below
But in the re-treading, De Palma has re-conceptualized Casualties of War by conveying his story dramatically through multimedia recreations of soldiers' video diaries, a French-narrated documentary, CNN and Al Jazeera inspired news segments, web videos, night vision video, security camera videos, video blogs, one way mirror psychological observational videos, and iChat sessions -- all based on actual blogs and video streams found on the Internet. It is YouTube style utilized to condemn itself. There is no denying De Palma's howl of rage, but it all becomes another exercise in mannerism for De Palma, the fictionalizations demeaning the original video web clips by draining away their immediacy for the sake of shoehorning it into his Casualties of War remake.
Any kind of anti-war statement De Palma wants to make against this horrible sinkhole war in Iraq is tempered by distancing devices. De Palma once again totes out the director tributes -- in this case we get the Joseph H. Lewis of Gun Crazy, the Sam Peckinpah of The Wild Bunch (the ants eating the scorpion), and, above all, the Stanley Kubrick of Full Metal Jacket (what else?) and Eyes Wide Shut (and even "Saraband" from Barry Lyndon). Again, the parlor game.
De Palma doesn't stop there. He is helpless with his cast of unknowns, who play their roles as if trying out for a high school production of Bury the Dead. But sometimes the actors are not all to blame. As a screenwriter, De Palma continually overstates his case with his cast spending most of their screen time declaiming -- in a moment out of Brecht, De Palma has one of the recruits utter the obvious by explaining, "Our own band of brothers are losing our moral compass and trying to wreck vengeance on a 15-year-old girl." (De Palma is even preparing one-sentence movie summaries for the Sunday supplement television listings.)
Many critics have recently taken to task filmmakers like De Palma and Paul Haggis (In the Valley of Elah) for jumping on the anti-war bandwagon after the winds of change have safely shifted -- where were these guys in 2002? But it doesn't really matter, though, since these Iraqi war films have nothing specifically to do with the Iraq War itself, they just regurgitate bromides about the evils of war and the emotional effects of war has on the humanity of the soldiers and their families (the films could just as well be about the Korean War or the invasion of Italy) serving merely as salves to sooth the guilty consciousnesses of Americans who should have spoken out loud and clear five years ago.
But De Palma has taken all of this one step further -- with Redacted he has created war porn for the cognoscenti.