Why did anyone think this was a good idea? Take one part earnest Iraq War polemic, add a Cloverfield-style “found footage” conceit, and then hand it to Brian frickin’ De Palma, a writer/director whose work is not usually noted for its nimbleness or sincerity. The worst part is that a teenage Iraqi girl was raped and murdered, and this is the memorial she gets.
The events depicted are based in fact—a squad of U.S. soldiers who let the madness of a war zone go too far and took it out on young Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi. And the found-footage thing is actually a good idea: These days our vision of the world, literally, is assembled from so many new and myriad sources—web video, surveillance cams, documentary footage—that it only makes sense to use that to tell a story. But “squander” isn’t a strong enough word for what De Palma does here. The squad members aren’t characters, they’re an almost complete set of war-movie clichés: Pvt. Sociopath, Pvt. Easily Led Thug, Pvt. Wears Glasses and Reads, Pvt. Secretly Decent, and camcorder-armed would-be film student Pvt. Talkative. The dialogue stiffly swipes at themes and plot points rather than ringing true as actual human conversation, and the no-name cast does it few additional favors. Left to his own devices, the director might have made the found footage work, but since he won funding for the film from HDNet, the film had to be shot in super-gloss HD, making the kind of shaky-cam patrol footage or grainy night vision look suspiciously slick and well-lit. Disbelief remains firmly in place throughout until a photo montage of dead Iraqis, black bars over their eyes, brings this farce to a bitter end.
Perhaps the weirdest aspect of Redacted is that De Palma made this movie already in 1989 as Casualties of War. He should have quit while he was ahead.