Redacted Brian De Palma

Redacted Brian De Palma

Redacted is the best, if not the bravest, film of Brian De Palma’s career. Using a radical style that mixes quasi-documentary video, websites, blogs, YouTube-style videos, security footage and internet chats, Redacted tells the true story of U.S. Army soldiers raping a 15-year-old Iraqi girl then slaughtering her family. The real events took place in March, 2006, and three of the four American soldiers have been sentenced (the fourth will be tried in criminal court).

After their sergeant is blown up by a bomb planted near their base in Amara, redneck soldiers B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and Flake (Patrick Carroll) seek revenge and recreation by invading the home of a pretty schoolgirl who passes through their checkpoint every day. They rape her, burn her body and massacre her family. Fellow squad member and budding filmmaker Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) videotapes the attack with a helmet camera while Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney) tries in vain to talk sense into Rush and Flake but winds up standing outside helplessly. The rape scene is harrowing and hard to watch, even for veteran filmgoers.

McCoy leaks the massacre to the outer world via a YouTube-like video and the military investigates. Meanwhile, Jihad extremists take revenge by beheading Angel and uploading his grisly execution onto their website (à la Daniel Pearl). Again, De Palma pulls no punches in this scene. The film ends on a shocking montage of redacted photographs of dead Iraqi men, women and children (whose eyes are covered over fear of lawsuits by the families). These censored images hammer home Redacted’s anti-war message and are shocking in light of the bland footage the mainstream American media feeds the public.

Redacted is neither preachy nor sentimental, attributes found in De Palma’s lesser movies, including 1989’s Casualties of War, which also dealt with a true-life war rape. Redacted resonates and haunts. The normally jaded audience at the industry screening I attended applauded at the end and just sat there as the credits rolled in silence. Redacted is already polarising audiences in America and sparking debate abroad. It’s the rare film that provokes its audience’s conscience.

De Palma received the Lion Award for directing at the Venice International Film Festival and a ten-minute standing ovation. He deserved both. This is the best film I saw at TIFF this year. (Seville)