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WAR IS HELL: Mike Figueroa stands guard in 'Redacted.'

Soldier Talk

In 'Redacted,' director Brian De Palma reboots his own 'Casualties of War' to Iraq.

By Richard von Busack

IN 1989, Brian De Palma made Casualties of War. It concerned the real-life story of a squad of U.S. soldiers who helped themselves to a Vietnamese girl and then murdered her when they were finished. This was De Palma's most brutal, most neglected and most mature film. It should have warned soldiers of the future away from the all-too-similar atrocity that occurred in Iraq in 2006 near Baghdad. But we're talking about a perfect world in which art can influence human conduct. Some place, that is, where Casualties of War doesn't end up No. 58 in box-office returns.De Palma isn't immobilized by cynicism or wrath. (Who could blame him if he was?) Instead, he frames his fictionalized version of the 2006 Iraq rape-murder case as an end-of-the-world service comedy. Redacted is a war atrocity told from all the different angles that new media allows. In the past, De Palma's ambition has been for the most balletic camera movements possible. His trick here is a multiplicity of styles, a collage story. The wider shots, so to speak, show us the point-of-view of a French documentary crew watching the U.S. soldiers at their roadblock. These sequences are coasted with classical music, which puts a fancy frame around a real-time dose of Army life, of heat-struck boredom punctuated by fright. An Al-Jazeera–like network reports on the terror bombings around them. An insurgent website celebrates the blasts. Two key scenes take place on a redacted (essentially, "censored") version of YouTube. Security cameras peer at the soldiers at night, before and after the rape of a local girl, and the killing of her family.The main point-of-view is of the video diary of private Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz). Salazar joined the Army to get money for film school, and he seems to believe his video footage of combat will earn him a scholarship. (De Palma gives this would-be auteur nothing but silly ambition; Salazar uses every ridiculous wipe an electronic camera can offer.) The other soldiers in the squad include the humane Corp. McCoy (Rob Devaney) and the lumpish buffoon B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman), who is buddies with the squad's newest arrival, the easygoing Reno Flake, played by Patrick Carroll, who makes this year's best debut. Reno is a stoned-out petty criminal whose deeper capacity for malice is only revealed later.

De Palma's ambition fails him sometimes. Oddly, you need really good actors to play nonactors in a nonmovie, and a few members of the cast don't measure up. In too many patches, the verisimilitude doesn't work. The security-camera footage looks too crisp—De Palma could have used the occasional unintelligibility of those hidden microphones for suspense. Certainly, the rape scene itself, filmed with a greenish night-vision camera, is all the more horrible for what we can't see. De Palma's point is that not even 1,000 cameras can tell one authentically true story. Something is always left outside the frame. Despite his intention to fictionalize this Iraq story, De Palma is competing with actual video diaries and documentaries. Gunner's Palace and The Ground Truth are ultimately more essential films, despite Redacted's extravagantly bold style and extraordinary bursts of black humor.

Movie Times REDACTED (R; 90 min.), directed and written by Brian De Palma, photographed by Jonathon Cliff and starring Izzy Diaz and Rob Devaney, opens Nov. 16 at the Aquarius in Palo Alto.

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