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Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Review in a Hurry:  Inspired by a horrific crime in Iraq, this "fictional documentary" launches an attack on the senses with its arsenal of created "source material" (video diaries, news footage, etc.). It's partly intended as commentary on the disconnect between media images and the Truth, especially in wartime. But Redacted's didactic, disjointed approach and unconvincing performances prevent the mission from being accomplished.

The Bigger Picture:  Brian De Palma is pissed. The director, clearly incensed about the Iraq War, revisits thematic territory from his film Casualties of War, which revolved around the rape of a young girl by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Since we're mired in yet another senseless, mismanaged conflict, De Palma uses a similar story to rage against the war's effects on soldiers' psyches and governmental cover-up of "collateral damage." De Palma's indignation is palpable, but he shoots himself in the filmmaking foot with a showy, self-conscious style that's more about the medium than the message.

Based on true events, this less than compelling polemic uses different nonfiction techniques to follow a handful of Americans stationed in Iraq. Some footage comes from a video diary by soldier and aspiring film student Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz). Other visual gimmicks, er, devices, include newscasts, webcams, security tapes and streaming video on American and Islamic websites. (What, no animation?) There's even a faux French documentary short about the troop's checkpoint routine, complete with subtitles, chamber music and lingering close-ups of trickling sweat and ants swarming a scorpion.

Rarely one for subtlety, De Palma—who also penned the script—pushes the soldiers toward types (the volatile one, the bookish one, the fat and dumb one, etc.) and puts theatrical dialogue in their mouths. Also diminishing the "documentary" effect is the fact Redacted feels acted, with many in the cast unable to achieve the hyperrealism required.

The film's centerpiece is the grunts' heinous crime, recorded by Diaz's hidden night-vision camera. He follows the drunk band of brothers—led by Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll) and B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman)—into an Iraqi home, where they molest the 15-year-old daughter and then kill her and her family. The sequence is raw and disturbing. Unfortunately, the rest of Redacted is not as powerful, despite its relentless attempts to shock and awe and pound you over the head. If you go, bring a helmet.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  Redacted closes with a harrowing montage of actual photographs of Iraq War casualties. As difficult as the images are, they should be widely broadcast and published; perhaps there'd be a greater antiwar outcry as a result.