Truth the first casualty of war film

Redacted movie posterRedacted: 90 minutes. Rated: MA. Director: Brian De Palma. Starring: Izzy Diaz, Patrick Carroll, Rob Devaney, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Zahra Zubaidi

'Truth is the first casualty of war.' So reads the tagline, and thematic banner, for American writer/director Brian De Palma's filmic thesis on misconduct and amorality among US Army soldiers in Iraq.

Ironically, the film itself, a based-on-fact account of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old Iraqi girl, and the murder of her family, by a wayward group of US troops, plays pretty fast and loose with the truth.

The central perspective is that of Angel 'Sally' Salazar (Diaz), who hopes that the unflinching, fly-on-the-wall footage of his time helping to man a US military checkpoint outside of Baghdad will get him into film school.

When his comrades, the violent and disturbed Reno Flake (Carroll), obnoxious and aggressive Rush (Sherman), and conscientious but impressionable McCoy (Devaney), set out to rape young local girl Farah (Zubaidi), he accompanies them in the naïve belief that his hidden camera will capture just the kind of confronting slice of reality that he's after.

During the course of the crime, the horror of the event awakens an awareness of a photojournalistic ethical quandary: that to film horrors requires refraining from intervening to prevent them.

Needless to say, it's a pivotal moment for Sally. But this is not his story, it is De Palma's. As George Romero did in Diary of the Dead, De Palma utilises a variety of visual styles to replicate assorted 'live' video sources — Sally's video diary, an artsy documentary, CCTV footage, webcam confessionals and other forms of guerilla footage.

He pieces these together in order to support his critique of the misconduct of troops in Iraq (links are drawn between Al-Mahmudiyah and Abu Ghraib), and the tendency of the mass media and military to whitewash rather than confront these issues.

The title is a clue. To redact is to revise or edit into a literary form. So although Redacted takes its grim inspiration from a real-life atrocity, the 2006 Al-Mahmudiyah killings, that fact has been placed in a frame of fiction. Disclaimers at the start of the film make that clear. The truth has been revised and edited to carry the filmmaker's vision.

De Palma has been called a left-wing propagandist, and even treasonous, by some who take umbrage at his seemingly free and easy use of facts for didactic political purposes.

Accusations of treason may be extreme, but there is something rather disingenuous, even manipulative, about Redacted. Films that are 'inspired by true events' are of course entitled to take liberties. The interests of art or accessibility often make it a necessity.

Yet the real-life perpetrators were charged and sentenced for the crime, and the exclusion of such critical truths simply because they don't fit the thesis does seem a deliberate and dubious misdirection.

The atrocities of war rightly make for unpleasant cinema. But with Redacted the questionable motives and means employed by the filmmaker leave behind the bitterest taste.

Redacted is available on DVD from Madman.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and The Big Issue. He is a contributor to the Black Box e-anthology.

Topic tags: tim kroenert, brian de palma, redacted, Truth is the first casualty of war



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Existing comments

Dear Tim, As an accomplished critic you have obviously agonised over writing this film critique. On this occasion I am not sure what it is that you are trying to say. I've not seen the film but how could it be written that a fourth individual could accompany 3 others, for artistic purposes, in order to film them in the commission of unspeakable crimes. Did the film maker render this scenario credible? Please explain.
Claude Rigney | 27 November 2008

Creative work that is claimed to be "based on true events" is either documentary in nature, or carries an implicit obligation to refer the viewer to documentary accounts of the true events.

Perhaps it should be pointed out to 'the studios' that "based on true events" would be a marvellous merchandising opportunity that could even engender investigative journalism.
David Arthur | 27 November 2008

Claude: 'a fourth individual could accompany 3 others, for artistic purposes, in order to film them in the commission of unspeakable crimes' - Yes, that is the scenario presented by the film. The character of Sally believes he is making a hard-hitting fly-on-the-wall documentary. Only during the commission of the crime does the moral question seem to occur to him, that has been apparent to the viewer from the first: whether or not his self-appointed role of documentarian excuses him from complicity in the crime, if he fails to intervene to prevent it.
Tim Kroenert | 28 November 2008


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