Despite being a prize winner at the Venice Film Festival, director Brian De Palma's unflinching criticism of the war in Iraq has proved a flop at the US box office, perhaps demonstrating that the American public in general are not ready for - or decidedly against - any strong criticism or distressing visual images of the realities of what is happening in their name.

Viewed by around 3,000 people on its opening weekend in the US, De Palma's movie takes its title from the term 'to redact' - that is to edit or revise a document in order to make it suitable for publication. It is a term which is often used to describe documents or images from which sensitive information has been censored or blacked out.

Though the opening of 'Redacted' - with its description of its title and hidden words – initially seems to point to the unveiling of some covered-up plot, its actual point is far more hard-hitting and truer.

De Palma's central point is that, in an age where everyone is a cameraman, the true story of the Iraq War has been kept hidden by the authorities and not shown by an almost totally corporate controlled mainstream media. In effect he is saying where are the harrowing videos and images of blood-soaked corpses, burnt bodies, and victims of this war?

He has said: "If we are going to cause such disorder then we must face the horrendous images that are the consequences of these actions. Once we saw them in Vietnam our citizens protested and brought that misguided conflict to an end." 

A fictional account of a true story, 'Redacted' is based on the gang rape, murder and burning of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, by US soldiers in March 2006. The soldiers also killed her parents and younger sister.

The film is shot from two over-lapping segments. One is from the viewpoint of a soldier within the division, while the other is from a French documentary crew who are making a film about the checkpoint soldiers and are embedded in their division.

There are also alternative stories coming from the Iraqi insurgents and the blogs from the soldiers' families back home. De Palma again tries to hammer home the point that despite all these media forms, the truth struggles to come to the fore.

The events on film, though based on true events, are fictionalised for legal reasons - but just barely. In the film the girl is 15, while her grandfather and not her father are killed. The rape scene, bomb attacks and the graphic beheading of a US soldier show De Palma is unafraid to place in front of us just some of the horrors of this five-year-old war.

The soldiers are shown to place little value on life, referring to the Iraqis as "sand niggers" and showing no remorse for the shooting of a pregnant Iraqi woman. Some also show little compassion for the death of their own.

As a result, some audiences will, and have, lampooned De Palma for his negative depiction of the troops, though ultimately he succeeds in putting across the message that, while some eggs are undeniably rotten, the majority have little idea as to why they're in Iraq, no education as to the natives and have become forever scarred and changed as a product of the environment they've been hurled into.

While careful not to excuse some of their abhorrent behaviour, he tries to go someway in understanding just why people can do such horrible deeds to others.

Compelling and uneasy viewing, 'Redacted' isn't without its flaws though for those who watch it, it will open debate and pose awkward questions about a war that is moving out of the centre and into the shadows of public discussion.

Steve Cummins