Unfortunately, while the underlying desire to expose the dynamics of the current conflict is noble, the execution doesn’t live up to the promise shown in the first few minutes. Once it settles into its rhythm, the shortcomings of performance and character are exposed, with stereotyped good ol’ boys, angry sergeants, and the bookish, bespeckled conscientious objector telling a fairly dry tale of good guys gone bad.
Despite its many attempts, the film never does feels authentic, the fly-on-the-way style that it’s trying to pull off. The performances always feel stagey or forced, the stereotypes just a bit too cut and dry. In other words, while providing details of the moral grey zone of life as a soldier, it tends to break down for simplicity sake to black and white, good vs. evil, the same tired tropes about troops that the film is structured to avoid.
The film does work during a few key scenes – the abduction by the soldier supposedly documenting the events is startling and effective, as is an IED explosion caught on camera. Meanwhile, many of the embedded webclips come off as more scripted performance than authentic, emotional outpourings, save for a tour de force idiotic rant by a perfectly cast angsty teen girl, and a well staged beheading that looks more than a little like the clips of Daniel Pearl played repeatedly on U.S. media. Contrasting these cinematic successes, the “multimedia” look becomes even sillier when the security cam footage has clear dialogue, deep focus and outbursts of soldier-on-soldier violence – clearly somebody should have been noticing this behaviour as abnormal, else why have the camera there in the first place?
These are quibbles about the technique of Redacted, yet its technique is the most compelling and interesting aspect of the film. Like many other DePalma pics, where style overtakes substance and the heart of the picture is lost in a flourish of technical prowess, Redacted falls short of its lofty goals. In the end, it’s a pretty tame war pic with a few shocking images, a tale that’s hardly a revelation to anyone who has been open to alternative views of the war from the beginning.