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Writer/director Brian De Palma's treatise on the war in Iraq is raw and ragged, jagged and jarring. It's not an easy film to watch but it is an important one to see.


The principal events of the film--the calculated rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by American servicemen--are inspired in part on an actual incident that has been more widely reported on the Internet than on traditional television or mainstream media, which is what inspired De Palma to undertake the film in the first place. The film follows the members of an American unit who have been in Iraq for too long and are frustrated by the experience, to the extent that their collective (and individual) humanity has become eroded. When one of their unit is killed in an explosion, they vent their anger in a systematic and surreptitious raid on an Iraqi family's house, unconcerned by the potential repercussions--on both sides--until after the fact. There are those who perceive the film to be anti-American and, indeed, most of the American characters are fairly despicable in their actions, although those actions are legitimately motivated by a sense of revenge and a palpable sense of rage. As much as one is intended to feel pity for the innocent Iraqi victims portrayed in the film, it's not difficult to extend that pity and sympathy to the soldiers, who truly do not realize the extent of their actions and who want to be out of Iraq as much as anyone else. This is the darker, more vicious, side of the concept of "heroism"--how it is perceived and, in this case, misperceived. The theme that violence begets violence is hardly a fresh concept, nor is it a concept that De Palma hasn't addressed before and, in some instances, been castigated for during his career.


The cast is comprised of newcomers, all the better to lend an appropriate anonymity to these "Everyman" characters. Izzy Diaz plays Salazar, a soldier who's been filming his stint in Iraq on his handheld camera, believing that it will be his ticket to Hollywood fame. Yet even he is unprepared for what will follow, after he films his fellow soldiers committing atrocities. Patrick Carroll and Daniel Stewart Sherman play, respectively, Reno Flake and B.B. Rush, the most volatile of the soldiers (both possibly insane), who relentlessly goad the others into participating in their illicit raid but then must protect themselves from the consequences. Rob Devaney's McCoy is one of the film's more empathetic characters, one who truly feels guilt over what occurred--primarily because he did nothing to prevent it. There's also a sharp turn by Ty Jones as Master Sgt. Sweet, who recognizes the early signs of his men's weariness and anger--and shares some of it-- but is unable to prevent it from exploding. These are not necessarily likable characters, and on occasion they can be presented in an extreme light, but the actors certainly give it everything they've got.


After a succession of disappointing films (Mission to Mars, Femme Fatale, The Black Dahlia), this is De Palma's most purposeful film in years--an angry, anti-war wake-up call. De Palma's primary intent, it seems, is to enrage, and to engage further discussion about the current situation in Iraq. This is not a conventional narrative, and its (admitted) one-sidedness certainly offers fodder for the film's detractors--as well as giving the film more attention than it might otherwise have received. De Palma uses a number of cinematic techniques to tell his story, interspersing the footage shot by Salazar, a bogus TV documentary for French television, video footage of the soldiers' testimony, and actual footage from the Internet. It's a gimmicky approach, and perhaps not as effective as a straightforward drama might have been, yet it still gets De Palma's points across--sometimes bluntly and sometimes with a heavy hand--but with an undeniable power that's difficult to shake.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.