Directed by Brian De Palma
Magnolia Pictures, 2007
Rated R, 90 minutes
It doesn’t take very long in Brian DePalma’s film, “Redacted” for us to get fairly deep inside the collective heads of seven or eight members of a US Marine squad that is in an overextended tour stationed in Samara, Iraq. Their daily job is to hold down a checkpoint.
Once we hear “Sand-n******” for about the fifth time spoken freely by some of the squad but never rebuked by any, we can just about anticipate the problems that will be forthcoming (it doesn’t seem a far stretch that those who use the word Sand-n***** might be some of the same people who think that the noose is a new fashion statement).
When the movie opens we learn that squad member Angel Salazar (played by Izzy Diaz), nicknamed “Sally” by his squad, has a goal to use his video camera to document the war and occupation so that he can get into USC film school when he returns.
He reminds you of Mars Blackman, the character that film director Spike Lee played in “She’s Gotta Have It.” He’s sharp and personable. And he’s continually in the face of the squad members, asking questions, and later viewers will understand the political and moral position he takes when he shoots the event that the film is about.
In 2004, a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl was raped. She and her whole family were murdered, and members of a marine squad in Samara burned down, their house.
The marines tried to cover it up by blaming it on insurgents. Roger Ebert’s review of the film is the only one I saw that was decent enough to name the fourteen-year-old girl.
The movie does two things.
It fictionalizes the events surrounding the actual incident, and it tells us the story by use of “videos,” shot by various groups that all have a particular interest, slant, and spin.
While we see the different videos, De Palma’s trick is that the movie is beautifully shot. We’re not stretching our neck or grounding our teeth at grainy videos. We have the freedom to focus on the one, simple, clear point that DePalma is making.
The other videos include a French documentary that we assume will be a one-hour French TV special about the occupation. We hear French with English subtitles. Next on screen, we look at a Jihad website which acts as a recruiting video by showing insurgent attacks on US soldiers. It’s a weighted scene to play on where our loyalties lie.
Even stranger than the Jihad website is Iraqi local television’s 5:30 news broadcast, which except for the Arabic, could be our local news, with the same tones and inflections.
Then there’s the camp security camera, which sits above the razor wire recreation area just outside the barracks. It reminds you of the recreation area at Guantanamo Bay. It points out the thorny issue of just who the prisoners might be.
The squad checkpoint looks down on rocky, flat land where Iraqi children are continually playing soccer. Are they also feeding information to the insurgents?
The details of the film have been omitted, so we can stew in the prevailing wind and realities on the ground.
The lush movie acts as a counterpoint to the dreary, hot, day-to-day, nerve-wracking tension, which may have lasting effects on those who signed up for the promise of post-Army college and benefits. Some might return as black-water mercenaries, killers for hire, with a much higher paycheck. But what they get is a quagmire, not far from Mei Lei, sweats and nightmares in the long shadow of being a potential Timothy McVeigh.