Brian De Palma is such a skilled technician that he could've easily had a successful career pumping out slick, crowd-pleasing genre pieces along the line of his Mission: Impossible and The Untouchables. But De Palma, like his friend and peer Martin Scorsese, strives to express something idiosyncratic and personal with his movies, which means his reach often exceeds his grasp. De Palma's Redacted was shot on the quick for a miniscule budget, yet it's still insanely ambitious. Based on an actual incident, Redacted tells the story of the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager by two American soldiers. The film is pieced together from a dozen or so mock "sources," including one soldier's video diary, Internet video clips, blogs, cable news reports, and a documentary by a pretentious French filmmaker.
The circumstances and the devices used in Redacted are real, but what De Palma records is anything but. Throughout his career, De Palma has constructed situations on film that are so "movie-ish" as to be borderline absurd, but they still evoke genuine feelings of terror, panic, pathos, and ironic dumbfoundedness. So if viewers have trouble with the film's shrill acting and cartoonish depiction of the U.S. military, in some ways, they're missing the point. Very little about Redacted is unintentional. De Palma clearly sets out to repulse the audience in the bluntest possible manner, and that includes coaching his troupe of multi-ethnic actors to behave as though they're in the corniest World War II film imaginable.
Still, knowing what De Palma's up to doesn't make Redacted any easier to take, especially since the director makes some grievous dramatic errors. It's believable enough that the characters in the film might act puffed-up and cocky in front of a fellow soldier's handheld camera, but when they're being captured by a surveillance camera, or interviewed by a superior officer, why are they still so unnatural? And while there's some cruel irony in the way this story—a true story, by all accounts—follows the plot of De Palma's Casualties Of War beat for beat, Redacted lacks any suspense sequences as operatic or grandiose as that film's elevated bridge shootout. It looks and feels cheap, knocked-out. As an expression of from-the-gut anti-war rage, Redacted is admirable, but as art, it's undercooked.