War crime in Iraq on film

February 1, 2008

BRIAN DE PALMA thinks the war in Iraq and its savagery has been redacted by the U.S. media. His attempt to correct that in his new film has led to a hornets' nest of controversy among critics who would like to redact Redacted.

Redacted fictionalizes one of the most horrendous crimes of the war--the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl in Mahmoudiya and the murder of her family by a group of U.S. soldiers in 2006. A multi-media technique reveals the story in pseudo-documentary style.

A French documentary, traditional embedded journalists, Army records and cable news are woven together with modern communication toys unique to this war--a soldier's video diary, Web site videos, night-vision goggles, helmet cams and an Army wife's blog. As we saw in Abu Ghraib, the military has lost control of the Internet, and there are now at least 1,000 ways for the truth of war to be revealed.

Shortly after De Palma won best director at the Vienna Film Festival, Bill O'Reilly called for a boycott of the "vile" film. He said the film will ignite young Muslim men, presumably those who missed the protests and outrage when the real crime occurred. "You pull that movie or I'm going to be your worst nightmare."

Review: Movies

Redacted, written and directed by Brian De Palma.

O'Reilly also said that the film's main financial backer, Mark Cuban, is a traitor and hinted that he should be jailed and beaten. The fun continues on www.boycottredacted.com, which calls for protests at movie screenings and urges a letter-writing campaign against corporate sponsors of the Dallas Mavericks, which Cuban owns.

Knowing the story beforehand in no way destroys the tension of the storyline. Redacted follows a group of Marines, who have just had their tour in Iraq extended, as they relax in their depressing barracks or sweat at their posts at a military checkpoint.

Much of the film focuses on the minute details of daily life at the checkpoint. For the soldiers, it is hot, boring and dangerous. For the Iraqis, it is humiliating and horrifying. The occupying troops punctuate the air with raw racism and sexism.

Young boys play among the rubble of sandbags and barricades. Children are patted down and their school bags searched both going and coming, with young women getting extra attention. It is extremely painful to watch.

Occupants of cars going through must negotiate signs many cannot read, a language many can not understand, and soldiers with dogs and guns. Finally there is an antiwar film that portrays the Iraqi people as the first victims of this war! In other war films, the brutality against Iraqi resisters and civilians is ignored--or they are blamed--for the suffering of U.S. soldiers.

Perhaps humanizing the "enemy" victims has unleashed the right-wing attackers. Some support-the-troops liberals also seem uncomfortable with so strongly criticizing a war in progress. They would prefer a subtler, less angry approach. Redacted is not anti-troop; it's antiwar, anti-media and anti-military. In the service of empire, the military trains its workers to commit crimes against humanity. It tells them they are heroes, then tosses them aside when their bodies are broken and their minds are haunted.

For a variety of reasons, this movie has had only short runs since November in a few cities and is currently running on HDTV on demand. The DVD is promised for February 19. Redacted is powerful art and propaganda. It asks a lot of its viewers, and it is about time.

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