Friday, November 30, 2007

Redacted (2007)

This is how you know what kind of Brian DePalma fan I am - I made it to the last theatrical screening of his widely hated new movie in Los Angeles on Thursday night, where a well-meaning woman was handing out anti-Bush flyers inside the lobby as if they were 3-D glasses. Or maybe I'm just obsessive-compulsive. Either way.

So, Redacted. The first thing to say is that, like almost all of DePalma's movies, it's better and more interesting than he's given credit for. On the other hand, it's still artistically limited - for years now, DePalma has been more interested in having his movies operate on an intellectual and formal level than in terms of basic narrative storytelling. Gone are the days of Carrie and Blow Out when he could combine both in a satisfying way. Redacted is more interested in being a piece of self-conscious apparatus, a movie that film students can pick apart for layers of subtext and political significance, but not something that anyone is going to want to watch for fun after a long day of work.

The plot is largely similar to DePalma's 1989 Casualties of War: Soldiers stranded far from home in the hell of war react in one of two ways: animalistic aggression and passive acceptance, culminating in the rape of an innocent young girl. Redacted shrugs off the benefits of the traditional narrative and well-drawn characters of Casualties and instead aims at something trickier, more harshly interrogative and Godardian. DePalma fractures his movie into a series of autonomously produced videos - a French documentary, Arab television broadcasts, a Marine's self-made war diary (he wants to get into film school), Jihadist web propaganda, and surveillance cameras. It's a cute idea, but it also illustrates a point: when everyone can make their own videos, everyone can be the star of their own performance piece. There is no objective authenticity to be found except through the mass collective of all these individual pieces of video, and everyone is the 'star' of their own show, with the result that everyone - including the sympathetic characters - wears a facade. In the end, it's not the rapists who are the bad guys of the movie, but the 'good guys' who allowed the rape to take place. In the final scene of the movie, one of the 'innocent' bystanders, back home at an engagement party, cries about the horrors that he witnessed in Iraq - but he's crying for the camera, putting on a show for the benefit of his own self-pity. It's not the thugs who are the bad guys of this movie, it's the people who should know better but stand by and allow atrocities to happen.

All that said: it's a movie that's more interesting than good. For all of DePalma's panopticon trickery and indictment of himself and his audience in the horrors of the world, we still have a movie with stiff and unconvincing acting (another Brechtian ploy?) and a general lack of emotional flow. I appreciate this movie but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't a DePalma completist.

UPDATE: Armond White has reviewed this movie, and he's pissed. His rambling, lengthy comments are revealing, I think, of what must be a bitter sense of betrayal - this is the first DePalma movie that Armond hasn't been able to say something good about, after praising The Fury and Mission to Mars as masterpieces and Wise Guys and Bonfire of the Vanities as underrated.


cjKennedy said...

I'm not a DePalma completist. I run hot and cold on the guy, but this is one of the soundest reviews of this movie I've seen and it makes me want to check it out when it comes to DVD.

Not being a fan of Casualties, I felt safe in skipping this one, but now you've got me curious.

I'm OK with movies that work on a purely intellectual rather than entertainment level. Not all the time, but once in a while.

Good review.

Buddins said...

I don't think I can take anyone serious if they have a positive word to say about Redacted. It is by far opne of the worst movies ever made.

Jeff McMahon said...

Buddins, you are under no obligation to take me 'serious' but if you're going to post you might as well explain why you feel as you do.

And like I say in the neighboring post, there's a big difference between a movie like this and movies which are _really_ the worst movies ever made. This one has, at the very least, audible dialogue and in-focus camerawork.

Actionman said...

Again Jeff, we agree on this one as well. I especially agree with this statement: "All that said: it's a movie that's more interesting than good."

Also, Armond White is an ass hat. And Buddins isn't far off from that if he thinks that Redacted is "one of the worst movies ever made."