Thursday, 7 August 2008


Redacted is probably the most notorious of the recent Iraq films in that it won the Golden Lion in Venice, got director Brian DePalma accused of being a traitor, and had a fight between DePalama and his own financier over the producer's censoring of images.

Of the recent Iraq films I've only seen Jarhead and Battle In Habitha. It's not a dramatic subject that has much variation and to be honest I would rather read an article about it than view most of the films based on the situation. The trouble I have in regard to most military films is that its a tight genre structure that has little variation. Its can be training, it can be the war, it can be the aftermath. Generally there is a total abdication of putting in realistic politics. There are generic views on honour, there's crazy types, there's a voice-over telling you what the soldier has learned, how they became wiser. It can seem to have less to do with an adult world than the typical slasher film, as it becomes about the cliche.

Unless there's a point of view. Of war films I have seen, I could rate Paths Of Glory, Full Metal Jacket. The Thin Red Line, The Big Red One and Apocalypse Now as excellent or classic. The Kubrick films had a marvellous distance to the events, showing the suggestion of political maneuvering between men, between soldiers and their superiors, between men and their enemies. Its calmly focused but never cold. The Thin Red Line and Apocalypse Now try to work on the meaning of war, the need for war within man, as man as animals, caged, confused, questioning killers. The Big Red One is the great war film in trying to survive the war, from the point of view of a foot soldier, studying the prejudices and absurdities that affect the soldiers from that one point of view.

There are other good films on war, such as Hell In the Pacific, Platoon, Casualties of War. To me these films have great moments but have either pretensions that get in the way, characters a tad too simplistic or a too straight-forward a narrative. But then again, I rate them very highly.

Of the Iraq films, Battle For Habitha seems to be dullest and most obvious, while Jarhead is entertaining and odd, in that it focuses on waiting for the war to start, but never quite gets under the surface enough, has actors giving actorly performances rather than carefully suggesting character.

Redacted is the weirdest of the bunch. It takes the same idea as battle For Habitha, about Americans murdering an Iraqi family in retaliation for one of their own being killed, but is far more satirical about the soldiers, of what they are doing. Its very against the war politically, suggesting a ruinous plan for greed, that destroys Iraq and the soldiers placed there. It is extremely cynical about the subsequent politics of rebuilding, portrays the troops as morons with guns, suggests that the army and America in general do not have the guts to face up to what some of their men do in this insane situation. The film shows the fiction in any logic to action, where the soldiers have no idea who is enemy or friend, are in a war that makes no political sense, are slowly going insane, losing context. The soldiers simply do not care in regards to their surroundings, are part of the problem.

To express this interestingly, the film is also a satire on the media of the war, is a fake documentary to begin with, so plays with cliches of war documentaries, of cliches of the soldier on screen, has knowingly pretentious music. The dislocation becomes very stated in these moments.

Redacted also satirizes how intelligent film-makers on subjects are on subjects they may be exploiting for quick genre thrills, how they shirk responsibility on investigating a situation, have no real ideas on what they film. The character shooting the footage used for the film is an obvious moron, someone trying to get into film school on a military scholarship, who shoots images yet has no idea on how to contextualise. That point in the film, repeated in different situations, is that people are too cynical, detached or tired to read the basic common sense of situations, to view others as people with rights, see them as standing cliches to be swotted aside. The point of view of genre, of honour that is always suggested, is mercilessly satirised, showing that all it can be is willful ignorance.

Most, if not all, of the characters in the film talk in cliches, have very little reference how to show emotion beyond what they have seen, act either in filmic or social cliches, are people without imagination to rise beyond prescribed notions of behaviour. This becomes the point of view of the film, as people keep talking yet make less sense, the worlds having less meaning due to abundant cliche, or the visuals they have seen having no verbal contexts that they can express to deal with them. How to connect what is seen and how to express an opinion on it has become a complete, exasperating failure. They commit atrocities due to feelings built upon ignorance and lack of options, not due to a genuine feeling of loss for a fallen comrade.

The film is also very cynical about the idea of justice. No-one truly receives justice, whether it be the Iraqi victims nor soldiers trapped in an insane situation. The army simply doesn't care and will lie to protect its soldiers. The attack/rape scene that is the centre of the film is very reminiscent of that Be Black Baby scene in DePalma's Hi Mom, a situation made horrible by implication and a sense of real evil that's difficult to escape.

Redacted is strange in that the film works better when viewed on the computer, as its medium is based on the internet, is told through blog and images posted on the net, is a parody of the way people on the internet express themselves in talk and body language, where everything is a show and yet means very little. On a larger screen, performances are a little broad, a little off, as net images would upsized. On a computer screen it makes far more sense as a representation of the new net world and how we express ourselves in hyperbole on the net. Everything was pitched as focused when on a computer screen as they really had that people talking to the cameras, acting to it, trying too hard to seem intelligent while saying stupid jokes and talking cliches without knowing it, as many would to a video camera or phone. Its simply about the medium that's been used. It still works on a larger screen but not as well as in its natural element. I would recommend watching it on a computer.

So that's Redacted. A complicated film. I'm not sure how it rates on the war film scale. I think it's very good but will need more viewings I think.

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