By Ray Bennett
Filmmaker Brian De Palma turns 67 on Tuesday so being handed the Silver Lion as best director for “Redacted” at the Venice International Film Festival was s timely gift.
The director faces a lot of flack for his searing docudrama about an incident involving U.S. soldiers in Iraq and critical response has been mixed and heated. The director of “Carrie” and “Scarface” explained to the festival press corps the title of his film, which screened today at the Toronto International Film Festival.
He said, “All the images we…have of our war are completely constructed — whitewashed, redacted,” and he revealed that he had found many of the harrowing images in the film, including videos and photos taken by soldiers, on the Internet: “One only hopes that these images will get the public incensed enough to get their congressmen to vote against the war.”
After the Venice screening, De Palma, said, “The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people. In Vietnam, when we saw the images and the sorrow of the people we were traumatising and killing, we saw the soldiers wounded and brought back in body bags. We see none of that in this war.
“It’s all out there on the Internet, you can find it if you look for it, but it’s not in the major media. The media is now really part of the corporate establishment. When I went out to find the pictures, I said (to the media) give me the pictures you can’t publish…
“Everything that is in the movie is based on something I found that actually happened. But once I had put it in the script I would get a note from a lawyer saying you can’t use that because it’s real and we may get sued.
Magnolia Pictures will release “Redacted’ in the United States in November in plenty of time to qualify for next year’s Academy Awards. No word yet on a U.K. release. Here’s my review from The Hollywood Reporter.
VENICE – Veteran director Brian De Palma’s filmmaking skills have seldom been as razor sharp as they are in his sensational new film about members of a U.S. Army squad who rape and murder a 15-year-old Iraqi girl and slay her family.
Made on HD video and employing images from digital cameras, video recorders, Internet uploads and old-fashioned film, De Palma’s movie is a ferocious argument against the engagement in Iraq for what it is doing to everyone involved.
Made so expertly that it appears to be assembled from genuine footage, the film details the extraordinary psychological pressure suffered by young soldiers on checkpoint duty in occupied areas of Iraq, and then follows one unit as two of its members skew monstrously out of control.
De Palma’s screenplay is outstanding, and he draws wonderfully naturalistic performances from his youthful cast. Sympathetic to the young men who lose their way in horrible circumstances but unflinching in its depiction of the horrors that can result, the film is harrowing, but it should find responsive audiences everywhere.
A fictional story based on real events, “Redacted” distills images from an array of sources to tell its story, beginning with those captured by Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), a young soldier who hopes they will buy his way into film school. Clean-cut Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney) also wields a video camera, but Salazar goes to extremes making a daily record of almost everything he sees.
That includes conversations with the other guys in the unit: Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll), a doper whose name is apt; B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman), a blowhard with a lot of body fat; Gabe Blix (Kel O’Neill), who likes to read John O’Hara; and two sergeants, Sweet (Ty Jones) and Vazques (Mike Figueroa). They goof around for the camera off duty and Salazar even records them on duty so that when one of them is blown to pieces by a bomb left in roadside trash, he gets it all.
By then, footage from a French documentary about the unit has made clear how the monotony and constant fear of maintaining checkpoints grinds the men down. Constantly being told they have to remain on duty for a further tour, they are drained and on edge. The docu reports that over 24 months 2,000 Iraqis were killed at checkpoints with only 60 proven to be insurgents. In one such incident, a pregnant woman and her baby are killed when her brother, taking her to the hospital, races through the unit’s checkpoint thinking he’s been waved on.
Rush and Flake are especially vulnerable to demonizing an enemy that they don’t recognize or understand. Their plan to rape the daughter of a Sunni man recently arrested comes up almost idly but then becomes one of deadly intent.
De Palma uses all his considerable talent to make clear what has happened to these young men and the performances, especially by Carroll as the callously indifferent Flake and Devaney as the conscience stricken McCoy, are first rate.
The director makes great use of Handel’s “Sarabande” in the picture, the somber tones familiar as the main title music in Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” It’s a reminder that nothing depicted in this film is new and that it’s a shame it needs to be told again.
Venice International Film Festival
Cast: Izzy Diaz; Daniel Stewart Sherman; Patrick Carroll; Rob Devaney; Mike Figueroa; Ty Jones; Kel O’Neill; Director, writer: Brian De Palma; Director of photography: Jonathon Cliff; Production designer: Phillip Barker; Costume designer: Jamila Alleddin; Editor: Bill Pankow; Producers: Mark Cuban, Jason Kliot, Simone Urdl, Joana Vicente, Todd Wagner, Jennifer Weiss; Co-executive producer: Gretchen McGowan; Produced by HDNet Films; MPAA rating: R; Running time, 90 minutes.