Redacted – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Redacted is a fictional documentary documenting the lives of some soldiers in Iraq. Its primary focus is the events leading up to, and aftermath of two American soldiers raping a 15-year-old girl before killing the girl and her family. While the story is fictional, it’s inspired by the Al-Mahmudiyah killings.

While Redacted is supposed to be a fictional documentary, there’s no sense of who is supposed to be putting this documentary together. There’s no narration (other then when it shows clips from another fictional documentary) to tie the clips together so there’s no real indication as to who is putting this documentary together.

The source of the documentary wouldn’t necessarily be important normally, but a lot of the footage is stuff that would be very difficult to obtain. In other instances, the person holding the camera really shouldn’t be where they are. Probably the best example of the documentary using difficult to obtain and improbable footage is the scenes filmed by the base security camera. There are a number of problems with it: 1) the US military isn’t likely to release security camera footage, particularly of an incident that embarrasses them; 2) security camera footage usually does not include audio yet this camera apparently has fantastic audio recording capabilities; 3) even if you grant that someone in the military leaked the footage and it just happened to be an uncommon camera that had sound recording capability, it seems unlikely the footage would have even been stored at all. As I understand it, security footage, unless flagged, is usually deleted after a short period of time (no more than a few days or a week). There is no reason for those recording to have been flagged at the time. By the time officials have a reason to want to review the footage, chances are it would be long gone.

Even though the existence of the footage sometimes seems implausible, the variety of film sources works well. The footage from each source has a distinctly different feel to it and the quality of that footage is matches the supposed source (with the exception of the security cam footage which looks a little too nice for a security camera).

The movie’s got one major problem. It fails in its goal. Redacted gives the impression (and the special features confirm) that we are supposed to feel sympathetic not only towards the innocent civilians, but also towards the soldiers involved (both those who failed to stop the events and those who actively carried them out). There is a scene fairly early on in the movie where a car runs a checkpoint and some civilians are killed. In that instance the movie does manage to convey its “there are no bad guys; they’re all victims of the situation,” message fairly well. With the whole rape and killings bit (the build up, the act and the aftermath) there is very much a clear sense that the soldiers who committed the crimes are bad guys. There’s not really any reason to think that Flake and Rush have ever been anything but horrible scumbags. Their situation may have allowed them to take their scumbaggery up a notch, but the movie fails to generate even the tiniest shred of sympathy for these (despicable) characters.

Though the movie fails to convince you that there are no real villains in its story, the narrative still works well. I think if there had been a little more focus on the various pressures (both official and unofficial) placed upon soldiers who may want to either stop crimes before they happen or report them afterwards, this could have been a really good film. As is though, it’s merely a passable one.

The video is presented in 1.78:1. The video sources vary in quality dependent upon the supposed source, but that’s an intentional aspect of the film. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. For the most part, everything looks and sounds as it should.

For the most part, the special features are surprisingly sparse on Redacted. This seems like the sort of movie that would really lend itself to extensive features.

First up, there are the standard of virtually any DVD release – Trailers. In this case, the trailers are for Terror’s Advocate, Outlaw, Flawless, and The Signal.

There’s also a short featurette that was originally an HDTV segment. Higher Definition: Redacted Episode has an interviewer discussing the film with director, Brian De Palma.

There’s also a brief Behind the Scenes featurette. For some reason, the only scene that is highlighted is one of the poker scenes. Not surprisingly, you won’t learn a whole lot about the making of the movie from this bit.

There’s also your standard Photo Gallery.

The only really meaty extra doesn’t actually feel like it’s part of Redacted. There’s about an hour’s worth of Refugee Interviews. In this feature, real Iraqi refugees talk about the horrors they faced and the people they have lost. It feels kind of strange to have interviews with real refugees as an extra for a fictional documentary but it’s definitely the most worthwhile extra included on the disc.

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. It’s got a somewhat unique approach and I agree with most of the politics in the film. Regrettably, Redacted‘s message ends up rather muddled. The problem could have been somewhat made up for with some great special features. Unfortunately, apart from the refugee interviews, the special features are pretty disappointing. It all adds up to a missed opportunity.

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Magnolia presents Redacted. Directed by Brian De Palma. Starring Rob Devaney, Eric Anderson, Mike Figueroa. Written by Brian De Palma. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: Feb 19, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.