Hollywood showed off its growing obsession with war and politics this week, as this year’s Toronto and Venice film festivals got underway. One film especially, Brian De Palma’s latest Redacted, has shaken audiences with its graphic depiction of the Iraq War, particularly the portrayal of the real-life rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the subsequent murder of her and her family by U.S. soldiers.

For “pure shock value,” Redacted is stealing the show in Venice, said Mike Collett-White and Silvia Aloisi for Reuters. But Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah offers “a more nuanced take on the conflict,” and features a great performance by Tommy Lee Jones, as well as a “defining image of an American flag hanging upside down.” And critics have praised the competition overall, which includes politically themed films about “Iraq, migrant labour in Britain, corruption in America, the Italian mafia, and police brutality in Egypt.”

De Palma doesn’t nearly deserve the buzz he’s getting, said Derek Elley on Variety.com. “The bullet veers far off the mark” in his film, which “has almost nothing new to say about the Iraq situation.” To make matters worse, the “dialogue simply checks off issues rather than developing arguments, and there isn’t the faintest trace of any moral or ethical complexity visible onscreen.”

It takes a powerful film to stand out this year, said Jason Chow in the Los Angeles Times (free registration required). “The A list is getting longer, and the films are getting more political.” And filmmakers aren’t the only ones jumping onto soapboxes. In Toronto, former president Jimmy Carter is presenting “a documentary about his peace agenda during his time in office,” and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is scheduled to “play a song he wrote for Body of War, a documentary about a soldier who was paralyzed during his first week of service in Iraq.”