Friday, November 30, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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"Redacted" is daring, but not that good

Seattle Times staff reporter

Movie review 2 stars

"Redacted," with Izzy Diaz, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Patrick Carroll, Mike Figueroa, Ty Jones and Rob Devaney. Written and directed by Brian De Palma. 90 minutes. Rated R for strong, disturbing violent content including a rape, pervasive language and some sexual references/images. Metro.

You might have heard a thing or two about Brian De Palma's hot-potato anti-war movie. Talking heads — many of whom haven't even seen the film yet — are yelling Treasonous! Hurts our troops! Aids the terrorists!

It's none of those things, but it's not a very good movie, either.

Similar to De Palma's 1989 "Casualties of War," "Redacted" fictionalizes the real rape and murder of a teen Iraqi girl and the slaughter of her family by U.S. soldiers.

De Palma's abandoned the lush visual style of "The Untouchables" and "Femme Fatale" for an experiment: Every scene comes from a source that could have captured it plausibly — security camera footage, a foreign documentary, Internet video, one soldier's camcorder.

Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) is keeping a video diary of his tour in Iraq, hoping it will get him into film school. His buddies range from loutish and racist to passive, and don't care much for the "Hadjis" they're protecting. Foremost among them are fat bully Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and a hateful loose cannon, Flake (Patrick Carroll).

They're stationed at a checkpoint where frustration and boredom grind on them as badly as the instant, random death. A bomb takes out one soldier. Another is abruptly dragged into a van, then shown beheaded on the Internet. The men shoot up a car speeding through the checkpoint, then find that it held a pregnant woman being rushed to the hospital. It's all jarringly realistic.

It's unclear how much the pressure gets to the men and how much they're just psychopathic brutes. But as time drags on, they go from feeling up a couple of humiliated local women in a search to the late-night rape and murder — and then its consequences.

It's hard to watch, and should be. But harder for other reasons. As an experiment in storytelling, it's mainly tedious and phony. De Palma wants the you-are-there, "Blair Witch Project" immediacy, but the actors are too actorly. Some footage defies common sense, too; even the cretins he's depicting wouldn't be dumb enough to say what they say when they know they're being filmed.

De Palma's career unevenness is aggravating. For every "Untouchables" or "Obsession" there's a "Bonfire of the Vanities" or "Mission to Mars." "Redacted" is an anti-"Green Berets" dashed off quick and cheap like an angry e-mail. The title refers to information that's kept from Americans, and the movie's message is, "See how we're liberating the Iraqis to death, and some of us are changing into something ugly while we're doing it?"

The notion that this cinematic dissent, clumsy as it is, could be treasonous is asinine. Movies and other art have always emerged from, reflected and commented on their times. The actual crime was what did the damage, not its depiction. That wrenching event is just one of the countless tales from any war, and could hardly be mistaken to represent all our troops.

Though he fails on his own terms, De Palma deserves some credit as an artist who's poured passion and anger into a work that defies power amid Hollywood's overcautious, sanitized, focus-grouped output.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259


Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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