Brian De Palma’s latest film is unconventional. Based on the rape and murder of a 14 year-old Iraqi girl and the killing of her family in Samarra in 2006, it is through a loose tapestry of documentary-style footage that we witness the atrocity, its build-up and its aftermath.
Private Angel Salazar’s video diary of his unit and segments from a French documentary, Arab news reports, security-camera footage, army interrogation tapes, and various internet video clips make up Redacted. Redacted (from the army term for blacked-out sensitive material in a document) delivers an urgent and relevant message to our media-saturated world.
We are first introduced to the unit through Salazar’s filming. The marines are bored and restless. De Palma’s scripting is a little forced in places. One of the marines, Lawyer McCoy, states that “the first casualty of war is going to be the truth”. Though one of a handful of more didactic lines to come, it is a point that resonates long after the closing credits.
Later, one of the marines, Reno Flake, shoots at a car that fails to stop at the checkpoint, killing the pregnant woman inside. When questioned about his “first kill”, Flake replies that it was like “gutting catfish”.
After a fellow marine is blown up by an IED, Flake and his equally macho compatriot, BB Rush (played powerfully by Daniel Stewart Sherman), decide to rape a young girl who crosses their checkpoint each day. Salazar insists on going along to film.
In a powerful scene near the end, McCoy is sitting in a bar back home with his wife and friends. They ask him for a war story, and he tells them of the rape he saw, but did nothing to stop, and then breaks down crying. After a short silence, his friends clap and toast their “war hero”, deaf to the lesson.
De Palma isn’t so much laying blame on US foreign policy as he is on censorship and a sanitised media. But he raises important questions about media responsibility and what people choose to see. Although the film is made up of material often absent from mainstream US reporting, it is largely material that we have all seen on the net in the form of video diaries, photos and news reports from a more honest and probing foreign media. The film might well be targeting a complacent US public who don’t want to know, but it is also a call to action.
De Palma’s message is clear: war is brutal and the media are lying, but the truth is out there and simply bearing witness to it is not enough. It is what we do with what we witness that matters. As Salazar echoes as he breaks down during interrogation after the rape, “Just because you’re watching doesn’t mean you’re not a part of it. That’s what everybody does, you know, just watch and they do nothing.” Perhaps De Palma’s point is overly simple, but it is urgent and worthy: we must do something.
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