Fog of War

Although Bill O'Reilly hates it, 'Redacted' is just not very good

Brian De Palma's latest film, Redacted, is something of a booby trap for viewers and reviewers. Based (very) loosely on the Mahmudiyah killings, wherein five U.S. soldiers gang-raped a 14-year old girl and then killed her and her family, the film actually portrays American servicemen doing something unspeakably awful.

It could, then, be said to show the troops in a bad light. Some of the troops raped and murdered a young girl, which is hard to show in a good light, but nonetheless, a film focusing on that event is bound to get a lot of publicity from the likes of Bill O'Reilly. In fact, he's taken it on as his personal bète noire, urging his legion of well-groomed listeners to protest the film's very existence by holding up pro-Army banners at basketball games.

Putting aside sport-oriented protests, it is interesting that De Palma chose to make a film that wasn't immediately and on its surface sympathetic to American troops (although, in watching it, it is certainly sympathetic to some U.S. troops). To condemn a crime is OK; to condemn a crime committed by soldiers is pretty touchy right now. So on sheer balls, I'll give De Palma a few points.

But if we put aside the politics, the question remains whether this is a good film (i.e., a nonbad film, not a nonevil film, because, let's face it, all films are evil). And here, the answer is that it's very hard to remove the politics from the film.

On the Internet Movie Database, where users rate a film on a scale of 1 to 10, Redacted has an average rating of 5.6 as of this writing. Now, the first thing they teach you in statistics is that averages don't mean much unless you know the distribution of the raw data, and here, instead of the nice bell curve you'd expect (wherein most of the votes would be around 5, and the fewest would be around 10 and 1), you get a U curve, which means most of the votes are either 10 or 1. Only about 11 percent gave it a score of 4, 5 or 6, whereas about 65 percent gave it a score of 1 or 10. So it's a love-it-or-hate-it film, right?

Probably not. It's a love-it-or-hate-it political message. I'm pretty sure all the 10s are from anti-war viewers, and the ones from pro-war viewers. In fact, any reasonably detached critical viewer (so, for example, someone who is not Michael Medved or Michael Moore or the Archangel Michael) would give this film about a 5. It's just dead-on mediocre.

The acting is deeply unprofessional, but not in a good way. It's not that the actors seem like real people; it's that they seem like real people who are trying to act. The worst part, though, is the script, which reads like it was written by a 67-year-old man who's trying to write dialogue for young people without figuring out how young people actually sound.

Which makes sense, since De Palma wrote it, and, last I checked, he was about 67 years old. But it's a bit painful to hear all the speechifying, including such awful lines as, "The first casualty of this war is going to be the truth!" and, "You think because you're just watching the war that you're not part of it!"

Which is an interesting sentiment, but it could have been conveyed without clumsy editorial exposition. It's clear that De Palma wants to implicate the viewer, and that he wants to question the very role of spectator, but that only works if you can make the viewer feel implicated. And to do that, you have to make something other than a World War II squad-of-buddies movie with an ugly twist, which is all De Palma did. The dopey dialogue and high school theater acting not only fails to implicate the viewer; it effectively distances the viewer.

De Palma furthers the distance with a few Kubrick references that he seems to have thrown in just to show that he's seen films by people who died before they became hacks. The rape sequence, which is truly disgusting, makes a nod to Clockwork Orange, and scenes at an automobile checkpoint are played out over Handel's "Sarabande," the piece that Kubrick played in Barry Lyndon. In that film, it created an air of historical distance; in Redacted, it creates an air of annoying pretense.

So when producer Mark Cuban said that Bill O'Reilly was his new "best friend" for giving the film so much publicity, he was right. Without right-wing blowhards attacking it, Redacted would have rapidly slunk off to the midlevel of the DVD-rental charts, and then vanished from memory completely.

Still, it's not a completely boring film. In spite of its overall incompetence, it's reasonably well-paced, and it has about the entertainment level of a decent Lifetime original movie. So, if you want to see a mediocre movie that Bill O'Reilly hates, I guess your best bet is Redacted, at least until Hostel III: Universal Healthscare comes out some time next October.

Fog of War and Redacted are not showing in any theaters in the area.

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