Bleeding Art Liberal; Goremeister De Palma's 'Redacted' Selectively Edits the War

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Can a movie stop the war in Iraq? With "Redacted," director Brian De Palma hopes so. His new film recounts (and greatly embellishes upon) an incident in which American soldiers - several of whom are now facing charges for their actions - raped and killed a young Iraqi girl.

Mr. De Palma has long held a reputation as a silver-screen copycat artist, a forger of second-rate goods who casually lifts from his cinematic betters. In films like "Dressed to Kill," "Mission to Mars" and "Blow Out," he shamelessly appropriated motifs and narrative elements from respected directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Michelangelo Antonioni.

He's also long exhibited a particular fascination with the confluence of violence and sexuality. So instead of simply paying tribute to his favorite films, Mr. De Palma's MO usually involves gutting his source material of thought and elegance and packing it full of gleefully grisly violence, often involving sexually tinged savagery toward women.

Not content with being derivative, he seems compelled to lace his films with cruelty, gore and misogyny. With few exceptions, his films trade smarts for shock and brains for brutality, prizing prurience and titillation above all.

These days, Mr. De Palma is in the midst of hyping "Redacted," which seems mostly to involve highlighting its antiwar message. The film has already begun to receive international acclaim, having recently won the best director award at the Venice Film Festival. Not surprisingly, the quality of the filmmaking rarely enters discussion of the movie's merits. Instead, it is being lauded primarily for its overt political stance.

The movie, shot in pseudo-documentary style, is peppered with unflinchingly graphic violence, including a scene in which the throat of an American serviceman is slit and his head severed. The movie ends with a long montage of gory, real-life photos taken from Iraq.

In interviews about the film, Mr. De Palma's rhetoric has been equally blunt. He hopes the film will act as a catalyst to end the war by exposing Americans to its horrors.

"The pictures are what will stop the war," Mr. De Palma was quoted as saying after winning in Venice. "One only hopes that these images will get the public incensed enough to get their congressmen to vote against the war."

Judging from these comments, he seems to be playing a rather familiar game. Only this time, instead of poaching ideas from cinema's greats, he's skimmed from the antiwar movement and, in the process, reduced their many complex arguments to a single instance of violent, sexually charged spectacle.

Mr. De Palma, of course, is no stranger to the power of strong imagery - only usually he's telling audiences to revel in it. His oeuvre is replete with gory, carnal material, and the vast majority of it is played for voyeuristic pleasure. A brief look through his decades of work finds a catalog of derangement posing as entertainment. …