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Tuesday, November 17, 2009
ARMOND: REDACTED ACTING "SUPERBLY ON-POINT"
AND BLOG REVIEWER ON REDACTED
Armond White at the New York Press begins his review of the new Iraq war-themed movie, The Messenger, by contrasting the acting style with that of Redacted:

Despite the many things wrong with Brian De Palma’s Redacted, the acting was superbly on-point. De Palma’s little-known cast got class differences right, even while the film’s rhetorical concept was slanting them into the typical Blue State condescension about working-class grunts. This bias infects the latest Iraq War movie, The Messenger, by writer-director Oren Moverman, who lacks De Palma’s instincts for actorly (human) truth. This story about two veterans (Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson) assigned MOS duty to deliver death notices to the deceased’s NOK (next-of-kin), is so bungled up with fashionable ambivalence about the Iraq War that every single behavioral detail is not just prejudicial but wrong.

Later in the review, White gives praise to the homecoming bar scene in Redacted, before reiterating his opinion that Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker is "now overrated":

For Moverman, Iraq soldiers are already dead. The Messenger is a requiem for zombies at board and overseas. Moverman isn’t skilled enough to convey complex grief like Redacted’s homecoming bar scene; he leaves his actors hanging with specious dialogue all over their faces. Full-bodied Morton has a needful, open gaze but there’s no believable sense of her character’s social reality—she’s playing a conceit. So is Foster, who is always prone to over-acting; Foster confuses making pass at Morton with showing desperation. Or is that Moverman’s confusion? Moverman can’t keep up with his actors’ misguided intensity; his camera roams over the scenes’ emotional values.

At least Kathryn Bigelow’s now-overrated Iraq War requiem, The Hurt Locker, was skillfully directed—noir tropes disguised as a war statement. Yet Bigelow’s skillful film let slip a similarly obnoxious suspicion of its characters—as in its “War is a Drug” conceit that, like The Messenger, critiques masculinity but fails to understand the depths of human commitment. It’s a sorry state when morally befuddled political tracts pass for drama.

BLOG CRITIC SAYS REDACTED ALMOST BURNS THE WAR MOVIE DOWN TO THE GROUND
Meanwhile, This Island Rod's Roderick Heath states that "Redacted almost succeeds in burning the war movie itself down to the ground, as it keeps the spirit of enquiring, experimental narrative as defined in '60s art alive and relevant." Heath feels the "cultural memory of Vietnam," along with De Palma's earlier films about that war, looming over Redacted. Heath further makes the distinction that in Redacted, De Palma is not concerned with reproducing reality, but instead, "turns realism into a mode of expression."


Posted by Geoff at 3:19 PM CST
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Sunday, September 6, 2009
GREEN: "THEY PLANNED IT..."
"IF I HAD NOT GONE TO IRAQ, I WOULD NOT HAVE GOT CAUGHT UP IN ANYTHING"
According to this Associated Press article from Canada's CBC, Steven Green told the judge at his trial in Kentucky that he was merely following orders from other soldiers when the group of them, disguised as insugents, attacked a family at their rural home outside Mahmoudiya, Iraq, in 2006. When asked how he felt about the others being out of prison one day, Green said that would be "all right" with him. "They planned it," said Green. "All I ever did was what they told me to do." Here is an excerpt from the article:

"You can act like I'm a sociopath. You can act like I'm a sex offender or whatever," Green said. "If I had not joined the army, if I had not gone to Iraq, I would not have got caught up in anything."

At a hearing in May, Green repeatedly apologized to the al-Janabi family, saying he knew little about Iraqis and that he realizes now his actions then were wrong.

Green described the attacks as "evil" and said when he dies "there will be justice and whatever I deserve, I'll get."

During Green's trial, defence attorneys never contested Green's role in the attacks. Instead, they focused on saving his life by bringing forward witnesses who testified that the U.S. military failed Green on multiple fronts — by allowing a troubled teen into the service, not recognizing and helping a soldier struggling emotionally and providing inadequate leadership.

During the sentencing hearing, defence attorney Patrick Bouldin said Green tried to take responsibility for his role in the attacks, twice offering to plead guilty and serve life in prison.

Assistant US attorney Marisa Ford said one offer came on the eve of jury selection, the other two weeks into jury selection.


Posted by Geoff at 12:18 PM CDT
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Saturday, September 5, 2009
GREEN SENTENCED FOR LIFE
AND ANOTHER PASSAGE ABOUT REDACTED
BBC News reports that Steven Green has been given five life sentences, with no possibility of parole, for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, and the murder of her family. The incident was the basis for Brian De Palma's 2007 film, Redacted.

Nick Lacey posted an excerpt the other day from his recently published second edition of Image and Representation, which looks at key concepts in media language. The excerpt he posted, called "Representing the war in Iraq," looks at several of the films made in recent years about the conflict that began in 2003. Lacey provides a brief but interesting analysis of Redacted, although he seems to say that the photograph that ends the film is an actual photograph (which therefore leads him to call the film "exploitative"), although the final photograph (shown here) was actually a staged photo. Here is Lacy's passage about Redacted:

Redacted, the most unconventional of the ‘Iraq films’, also uses new media technologies to represent the rape of a 15-year-old girl and the murder of herself, and her family, by US marines. The film starts with a disclaimer that the film is ‘a fiction inspired by true events’. The writer-director, Brian De Palma, uses a mix of texts to show what (might have) happened: a ‘home video’ made by one of the marines; a pastiche of a French (intellectual) documentary about Iraq; CCTV cameras; Internet postings; a video made on a mobile phone; photojournalism. Although it may seem that it is a realist text, the multimedia mixing instead draws attention to the artifice of what is shown. This may suggest that such horrendous events cannot be convincingly rendered by realism. Indeed De Palma also deploys melodrama; the one good guy, who tries to publicise what’s happened, is called Lawyer McCoy. This melodrama extends to the use of an aria from Puccini’s opera Tosca, the protagonist of which murders the man who is trying to rape her. This, highly passionate, aria could be seen as an ironic comment upon the Iraqi teenager’s inability to kill her rapists. However, the last image of the film is an actual photograph of the dead girl which needs no melodramatic heightening to appall its audience and so, ultimately, De Palma’s film comes across as exploitative.


Posted by Geoff at 12:14 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, September 5, 2009 3:58 PM CDT
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Monday, August 31, 2009
TWO YEARS LATER: REDACTED
CLF: "A MASTERPIECE OF CONGRUENCY BETWEEN FORM & CONTENT"
Two years after Brian De Palma's Redacted had its world premiere in Venice, the collective known as Celluloid Liberation Front has posted a clear-eyed, poetic review-- the sharpest piece of writing I've read yet about Redacted. Click the link to read the whole thing, but here is a brief excerpt:

De Palma’s narrative strategy is depictive of his vision of reality: a cluster of events known not only by an omniscient narrator but, by whoever has access to the audiovisual archives available on the internet. If the Hitchcockian suspense is based on the fact that the cinematographic character knows more than the spectator, in Redacted the position of the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) is visible on an insurgents’ website: the intelligence’s function does not belong to the secret agents anymore but, is a possibility given to anybody surfing the global waves of telematics. Ignorance is the incapability of connecting information, of looking for the ‘right’ links, and not the imposed maleficence of an almighty narrator deciding the life and death of its characters.

Posted by Geoff at 11:37 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009
ARMOND WHIITE ON HURT LOCKER
AND OTHER VIEWS ON REDACTED, CASUALTIES OF WAR

Armond White reviews Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker in this week's New York Press, and the second word of his review is "Brian De Palma"--

Although Brian De Palma lost his artistic bearings on the anti–Iraq War bandwagon, director Kathryn Bigelow found her perfect subject. That’s the difference between De Palma’s confused, preachy Redacted and Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. Bigelow (working from a script by Mark Boal) stays focused on the personalities of soldiers during Bravo company’s last 39 days of rotation in 2004 Baghdad. An early reconnaissance jest (“It’s my dick.”) between Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Sgt. Thompson (Guy Pearce) recalls De Palma’s ribaldry, but it also indicates Bigelow’s erotic view of masculine endeavor—here defining the propensity for violence and bravery during war.

It's nice to know that White is chalking up his dislike of Redacted to De Palma "losing his artistic bearings" because he supposedly jumped on the anti-Iraq war bandwagon, but I would counter that with Redacted, De Palma had just begun to discover new artistic bearings that were compromised even within that film's already meager budget. In the introduction for this interview with the British artist Legofesto, writer Andy Carling describes how De Palma had wanted to use Legofesto's recreation of the rape and murder of a Mahmudiya family by soldiers in Redacted. He quotes De Palma discussing the things he had to leave out of his film:

It started with small things, like the Legofesto site for example. Here’s a site that actually reconstructs the incident with Legos, shows a Lego figure being raped, blood on the floor, etc. and is critical of the event, but the lawyers come and say, we can’t use it because it has a brand name - Lego. Not that they are to blame. If you put it in its real context - an Internet blog using Lego figures to illustrate an event, I could not see the problem, but legal vetting is set to safeguard and in that respect, who wants the possibility of going to war with Lego?

De Palma did not even originally plan to have a screenplay for Redacted, but was forced to write one and to follow it by the studio. He must have realized he would need one to get financing for a future movie in the same vein as Redacted, so he wrote a script tentatively titled Shoot The Messenger, a project which would have used a form similar to that of the purposely fractured yet streamlined Redacted. It is a shame that financing could not be found for a more radical project such as Shoot The Messenger, which purported to use another internet-like web of sources to delve into the way stories are invented and sold to the public as a way of distorting the truth.

In a double-review of Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure and Nick Broomfield's Battle For Haditha, Phil Nugent delved into a discussion of De Palma's war films:

In Haditha, as in some of the Vietnam war movies such as Full Metal Jacket, war puts decent young men into situations where they're temporarily driven insane, which means they cannot be judged. Some reviewers--and, it seems, the director himself--have taken the opportunity to use Broomfield's movie as a club against Brian De Palma's Redacted, just as De Palma's Vietnam movie Casualties of War was denounced by the critics who'd hailed Full Metal Jacket and Platoon as realistic and morally tough-minded. Part of De Palma's message in both his war movies was that atrocities happen when there's an instigator there to get the ball rolling. The other Vietnam movies were part of a culture that sought to make peace with Vietnam vets who felt they'd been maligned and even demonized as part of the overall effort to criticize the war when it was going on, and they did that in part by saying that "war" is so deranging that those who'd done bad things in the field shouldn't be held responsible for anything at all, though they did have the option of feeling sorry for themselves. The ball somehow gets itself rolling. Haditha, portraying American soldiers going batshit psychotic for a brief bloody spell and then switching back to their normal selves, like the Hulk turning back into Bruce Banner, just in time to deliver a climactic soul-searching speech to the bathroom mirror, is a continuation of that trend, and it may seem a very comforting approach for people who want to express horror at what goes on in Iraq but who are terrified that if they seem to criticize any individual soldiers, they'll be accused of not "supporting the troops." What's missing from this attitude is any awareness of, let alone respect and sympathy for, the soldiers who don't go batshit and manage to hang onto their moral bearings, such as the soldier who reported the actual abduction and rape that formed the basis for the story told in Casualties of War, or the helicopter pilot who broke up the My Lai massacre, and all the numberless members of the military who go through just as much hell as anyone in war but resist the urge to run amok. One of the most resonant interviews in Standard Operating Procedure is with a guy who explains that he didn't break up the fun at Abu Ghraib and who agreed to take some pictures because, "Me being the kind of person I am, I try to be friends with everybody. I'm a nice guy, so I took [the picture]. I try not to have anybody mad at me." (This sap goes on to say that the fact that he got in trouble for his actions proves that "being a nice guy doesn't pay off," and then laments, or boasts, that since he got home, people say he's not as nice as he used to be.) The Iraq war was unnecessary, and served no good purpose, but once the president decided that he really, really wanted it, it didn't take too much work from the government to sell the media on making it seem that if you wanted to be a nice guy, if you didn't want anybody mad at you, you had to want this war too. The heroes of My Lai and the Casualties of War rape case and other nightmares were the ones who were willing to be disliked, who thought it was more important to do the obvious right thing than to be thought of as nice guys, and who, by their very existence, show the "War makes you crazy and absolves you of responsibility" school of thought for the self-protective, buck-passing line of horseshit that it is. The people at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere did unforgivable, monstrous things for the best and worst of reasons: they didn't want to be thought of as troublemakers.


Posted by Geoff at 12:19 PM CDT
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Thursday, May 21, 2009
LIFE SENTENCE FOR GREEN


Photo and article courtesy the New York Times:

A jury in Kentucky sentenced a 24-year-old former soldier to life in prison without parole on Thursday for raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdering her, her parents and a younger sister in Iraq.

The verdict spared the defendant, Steven D. Green, death for a crime that prompted Iraqi demands for retribution and raised questions about Army oversight of its most combat-stressed forces.


Posted by Geoff at 7:49 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, May 21, 2009 7:50 PM CDT
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Sunday, May 10, 2009
JURY: GREEN GUILTY OF RAPE, MURDER
PENALTY YET TO BE DECIDED
Private Steven Green, who was the ringleader of the shocking 2006 attack on an Iraqi family that De Palma's film Redacted was based on, was found guilty on 16 charges by a Kentucky jury Thursday. According to an article in The Independent, the charges include rape, premeditated murder and obstruction of justice. The jury will reconvene on Monday to decide Green's penalty. Relatives of the murdered Iraqi family said they will only be satisfied if Green is given a death sentence that is then carried out, according to The Independent article by Kim Sengupta:

"So they decided this criminal was guilty, but we don't expect he'll be executed. Only if he's executed, will we know that the right thing was done," a cousin, Yusuf Mohammed Janabi, told Reuters. The dead schoolgirl's uncle, Karim Janabi, added: "By all measures, this was a very criminal act. We are just waiting for the court to sentence him so he gets justice and the court can change the image of Americans."

According to an AP article by Steve Robrahn, government prosecutors at Green's trial stated that Green had "bragged during a barbecue celebration later that what he had done [to the Iraqi family] was 'awesome.,'" and that Green was only interested in killing Iraqis "nonstop." According to Robrahn's article:

In opening statements at the trial, Patrick Bouldin, a public defender, said Green's platoon had been decimated by deaths and injuries before the crime.

"You have to understand the background that leads up to this perfect storm of insanity," Bouldin told the jury.

Bouldin said Green had sought help dealing with combat stress after the deaths of close colleagues and was unsure whether Iraqis he encountered were friend or foe.

"They couldn't tell the village people and the farmers from the insurgents and the terrorists," he said.


Posted by Geoff at 10:15 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 11:49 AM CDT
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Sunday, May 3, 2009
A.O. SCOTT'S MEMO TO SPIELBERG, SCORSESE

"THINK SMALL AGAIN," LIKE DE PALMA & COPPOLA

The New York Times' film critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott have written several Memos to Hollywood, published in today's edition. The format of the article echoes a recent running bit on Saturday Night Live, where "Weekend Update" co-anchors Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler would trade tirades in a segment called "Really?!?" In one of the memos, Scott suggests that Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese follow the lead of their fellow "movie brat" buddies Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma by making smaller films:

To: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese

From: A.O.S.

Think small again! Your buddy Francis Ford Coppola has made his last couple of movies on a relative shoestring in Romania and Argentina. Brian De Palma shot Redacted on video with an unknown cast. You are fortunate to be able to do just about anything you want, and you’ve certainly earned the right to work on a large scale. But it’s also sad to think that your days of small, scrappy, personal movies are behind you. Well, maybe they aren’t. Maybe you could go scout a location or two. Work with available light, a skeleton crew and unsung actors. Fly by the seat of your pants. Just for old times’ sake.


Posted by Geoff at 11:16 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, May 3, 2009 11:19 AM CDT
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Monday, March 16, 2009
LETTERS DEBATE SINISE
AND HIS CRITICISM OF DE PALMA & REDACTED
Today's Chicago Tribune featured letters to the editor debating the newspaper's interview last week with Gary Sinise, in which Sinise criticized Brian De Palma as having been "out to get the troops" by making 2007's Redacted. All three letters printed today expressed support for Sinise's general backing of U.S. soldiers, but the first one, written by Chicago's Roger Shiels, took a dismissive swipe at De Palma, linking him and his film to Jane Fonda's controversial protests of the Vietnam war in the early 1970s:

Hats off to Mr. Sinise. As for director Brian De Palma, no wonder he had no comment. He was probably sequestered in his basement watching Jane Fonda workout videos.

The third and final letter, from Terry Green, president of Strata Productions, suggested that Sinise was hurting his own cause by "bashing Hollywood war films":

If Mr. Sinise had seen Redacted, he would know that it's a reminder of the cost of war and that its director, Brian De Palma, doesn't "hate the American military," but is highly critical of the system of government that created the situation that is the subject of his film.

And while I think almost all war movies today are anti-war propaganda films and many of them exploitative, they're essential because they create a dialogue, which hopefully leads to solutions.

I don't want Mr. Sinise to stop using his celebrity to shed light on the heroic efforts of our soldiers, but bashing Hollywood war films only hurts his cause.

The story is the death and destruction of war.

Anything less is a distortion of the truth.


Posted by Geoff at 5:12 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009
SINISE INFURIATED BY REDACTED
SAYS "BRIAN DE PALMA HATES THE AMERICAN MILITARY"
Exactly nine years ago today, Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars was released in theaters. It was the second time De Palma worked with actor Gary Sinise, who had appeared in De Palma's Snake Eyes just two years earlier. It doesn't look like the pair will be making any films together anytime soon.

Sinise, who has been performing with his band, the Lt. Dan Band, for troops in Iraq through USO tours since 2003, is executive producer of a new documentary about the current Iraq conflict, Brothers At War. The film is directed by Jake Rademacher, who took his camera to Iraq to follow around his two younger brothers, who are U.S. soldiers. Sinise is interviewed about the film in today's Chicago Tribune by Robert K. Elder, who mentions that Sinise has also made a documentary covering his own time in Iraq for Fox News. Sinise, who told Elder that he has "a profound respect for people who serve," also said that Brothers At War "is not going to be your typical blood-and-guts, negative, depressing thing about Iraq. What's great about this film is there's a personal investment, because the filmmaker is making it about his family."

However, Sinise was fuming to Elder about De Palma, saying that with Redacted (which, shades of Fox News, Sinise has not even seen!) the director "was out to get the troops, to depict them as child rapists. That's the truth he wanted to tell. That's one particular, horrible episode that happened by, clearly, some criminals who happen to be in the American military." Sinise continued...

"There are 150,000 people serving honorably, but Brian De Palma didn't care to show those stories," Sinise says.

His venom catches me off guard, not only because De Palma directed Sinise in both Mission to Mars and Snake Eyes, but also because Sinise says he never saw Redacted.

"I wouldn't see that film. I knew he had a very political agenda with making that film to make the American military look really, really horrible," he says.

"Brian De Palma hates the American military."

[De Palma a la Mod editor's note: Sinise may or may not be drawing some insight here from working on De Palma's Snake Eyes, in which Sinise's Navy Commander character is in charge of a conspiracy to assassinate the Secretary of Defense over the impending cancellation of a missile project that Sinise's character is deeply in favor of, as he feels the project is important to the protection of his fellow soldiers.]

Elder's article continues... 

A call to the office of De Palma's agent for a response elicits this: "Mr. De Palma has no comment. Thanks."

Sinise says he has never discussed Redacted with the filmmaker, but it doesn't appear the two will be working together any time soon.

Sinise's criticism didn't stop there. Brothers at War, he says, is "not a journalist going out there looking for the story he's trying to tell. There are many, many points of view and many sides. Unfortunately, you have to dig deep to find a balanced perspective."

I suggest that the military may have credibility problems, especially after it twisted the otherwise heroic stories of former prisoner of war Pvt. Jessica Lynch and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was shot and killed by fellow soldiers. The military lied to the country and their families for public-relations purposes. "I don't think the truth wins out in either case," I say.

After a pause, Sinise says, "You're right," then counters: "And for every one of those, you have 50 other [positive] stories. Unfortunately, bad news sells. If two houses are standing there, and one of them is on fire, the reporter is going to write about the one that's on fire—not the peaceful house that's nicely painted."

"Because that's not news," I offer. The news, in part, provides cautionary tales, such as how to keep your house from burning.

But we're in a war where people are serving honorably, Sinise says. "Those stories need to be told."

In the article, Elder describes Redacted as "an award-winning but divisive drama about soldiers who raped a young Iraqi girl." Of course, the idea that De Palma was "out to get the troops" is utter nonsense. In Redacted, De Palma makes no bones about the idea that the soldiers who performed these criminal acts had no business being in the military in the first place. He places an individual soldier of integrity at the heart of the movie who attempts to stop the crimes from being committed, and is wracked with guilt over the incident, which comes to represent for him the senselessness of the killing all over Iraq. De Palma's stated purpose with the film was to end the war, plain and simple. While I respect Sinise and what he does for the troops, his criticism of this film he refuses to see is blind and hollow.


Posted by Geoff at 10:35 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, March 12, 2009 1:00 PM CDT
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