And yet, De Palma's skillful formal manipulations are undercut by his simplistic understanding of his material (his various sources offer more-or-less the same viewpoint) and his straightforward exposition. If the different filters are designed to make us question the validity of official presentations of the war, this implied skepticism is not translated to De Palma's own presentation which plays out in predictable polemical fashion and which admits of no such interrogation. The director's formalist gesture works as a distancing strategy, a device which asks the viewer to regard the film's content with a certain degree of irony, but such an approach seems ill-suited to a story as unambiguous as Redacted, especially since De Palma's tendentious attitude towards his material precludes precisely that ironic viewpoint suggested by his formal framework. The film's salient feature may ultimately be the disconnect between its simplistic content and its multi-faceted form, a form which promises a nuanced understanding of the material that is at odds with the director's blunt perspective. De Palma's formalism is remarkably inventive, but it belongs in another film, one more open to a corresponding multiplicity of viewpoint.
Much has been made about De Palma's crude presentation of his material. The stock characters that comprise his cast and the lack of nuance in his understanding of the complexities of war have been endlessly enumerated by the film's many detractors, but in this crudity lies an undeniable power. As J. Hoberman noted "the most authentic thing about Redacted is the rage with which it was made." As an instructive presentation of the "reality" of the war, it may be useless, but as an expression of the director's anger (which may ultimately be the film's real subject), it achieves a rare force. The rape sequence, despite the murky filter provided by Salazar's helmet camera, provides, with the sole exception of the final scene in The Wayward Cloud, the year's most disturbing on-screen violence. Although its staging may feel like an unfair manipulation of the viewer's reponse, slickly designed to further the director's exhortative ends, only such a brutal expression of rage can provide a fit correlative to De Palma's anguished conception of the circumstances surrounding the war.
But De Palma's simplistic understanding of his material finally works against him. As Paul Arthur demonstrates in a recent piece in Film Comment, the director's portrayal of the rapist/murderers as vulgar, immoral rednecks whose characters are fixed from the film's start blunts his indictment of the war machinery since the criminals' acts are not shaped by the military culture, but are the inevitable expressions of their essential personalities. The director's one critique of the military apparatus (as opposed to the actions of the individual soldier) comes when a conscience stricken GI tries to report the rape and runs into a hierarchical machinery designed to protect the military from any such unflattering charges, but the film's blame rests largely with its monstrously caricatured soldiers. As Arthur notes, the film "turns its murderous rampage into a weird aberration, something perpetrated by monsters exhumed from an imagination steeped in hack-Hollywood action clichés." Salazar, who attends the massacre, his camera rolling, as a supposedly objective witness (thus indicting the filmmaker who observes but doesn't interfere with the perpetration of atrocities), may serve as a example of the innocent GI who, caught up in the exceptional circumstances of war, is brought to participate in immoral actions, but De Palma's primary interest in this character is through his capacity as video recorder. Ultimately, the perpetrators are no more than the stock figures common to nearly every war picture since the 1980s. To his credit, De Palma acknowledges this reliance on shopworn models through the mouthpiece of an angry teen video blogger, but the mere acknowledgement doesn't negate the act. This refusal to bring to the material any hint of a nuanced understanding may add to the film's forceful sense of outrage, but it prevents the work from serving as anything more than an expression of personal anguish, the impotent cry of a lone individual.