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November 19, 2007

Review of Redacted

The review reads like the drill-kill sequence in Body Double.

Toward the end of Brian De Palma's Redacted, a pierced and tattooed antiwar protester hisses into the camera, "You don't see the My Lai massacre in the movies because the truths of that fascist orgy are just too hellish for even liberal Hollywood to cop to." This is the director's backhanded way of complimenting himself. You see, in 1989, a decade after Apocalypse Now and Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, De Palma (who had been detained in the interim directing films about cross-dressing slashers and power-drilled ingénues) at last offered his own bold take on Vietnam in Casualties of War, which focused on a My Lai-like atrocity in which American G.I.s raped and murdered an innocent Vietnamese girl. Take that, queasy liberal Hollywood.

Now, De Palma offers his measured commentary on another unpopular war with Redacted, a film in which American marines ... rape and murder an innocent Iraqi girl. Grant De Palma this much: At least he did not wait until 14 years after hostilities concluded to pull his catch-all war metaphor from the dark cupboard of his psyche.

But grant him nothing else. As anyone familiar with De Palma's rapidly declining oeuvre might have anticipated, Redacted is crude, exploitative, and politically simple-minded. Harder to predict given the subject matter is that it is also, for its first half at least, remarkably tedious.


Thanks to Redacted's clumsy, transparent politicking, the crime it portrays never feels remotely real, despite being closely based on an actual atrocity committed by American troops in Mahmudiyah in 2006. (De Palma evidently relocated the events in order to wedge in an awkward, pseudoliterary reference to John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra.) Redacted is intended to be shocking, controversial, and, yes, offensive to some viewers. The surprise is that De Palma is now too inept even to offend.

I remember really liking DePalma... when I was 14 years old, and found his mixture of graphic violence and soft-porn pretty intoxicating. I felt like an "adult" watching Blow Out and Body Double.

I've seen them since and, while neither film is bad, I realized neither was good, either. They are, for me, the cinematic equivalents of Quiet Riot's Cum on Feel the Noise. For a teenager, awesome. For an adult, kind of crappy.

DePalma has always felt rather shabby for not making it in the business like his contemporaries Coppola, Spielberg, and Lucas. He's said he in Hollywood he always feels like he has the box office from his last film glowing in neon letting on his coat; given his dismal history, it must be a tough thing to walk the street. While I've come to really like The Untouchables, it's hard to forgive him for disasters like Bonfire of the Vanities. A book about that fiasco, The Devil's Candy, noted how DePalma was always seeking to do tricky and gimmicky shots because he didn't want people to think he was an "old man" and off his game.

It seems that this film is an attempt to capture some amount of respect among his peers or at least a very narrow segment of the public through simple political sympathizing. Now confirmed as walking box-office poison and indeed an "old man" whose small number of tricks (chiefly, alternating ripping off a Hitchcock film and Coppola's The Conversation every single damn movie) are by now very tired indeed, he's narrowcasting to a tiny cadre of anti-war leftists and of course the kneejerk award-givers overseas. And even in this latest bid for respectability -- only one critic ever seemed to think him especially good, and that was Pauline Kael, who died years ago -- he seems to have failed disastrously.

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posted by Ace at 03:00 PM

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