March 11, 2010

Green Zone

Aim for the cameraman!

Grade: C

Director: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, and Amy Ryan

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Everything in Green Zone is punctuated with exclamation points. The Iraq War is LOUD! The Middle East is DANGEROUS! Helicopters, jeeps, and sprinting soldiers move FAST! No one, not even your friends and allies, can be TRUSTED! It’s not so much an adrenaline-rush as a steroid-transfusion.

Unfortunately, if you want in-depth analysis of the film’s gravamen—the quixotic hunt for weapons of mass destruction—the best you will get is Army warrant officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) repeatedly screaming variations on “Where are the WMDs!” or “Tell me about the WMDs!”

Although a good movie can and should be made that investigates the political misinformation used to justify the war in Iraq, Green Zone, which was shot more than two years ago, feels like a dated political drama grounded in theatrics and buzzwords. The film’s in-your-face sense of urgency now seems strangely passé—it may as well be about feverously hunting for leprechauns or trying to uncover Iraq’s stockpiles of pixie dust.

Paul Greengrass, director of the latter two Bourne movies, sets the action in the spring of 2003, between the end of the initial invasion phase of the war and the formal establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority. What could have been a sweeping indictment of the way the United States bungled the formative stages Operation Iraqi Freedom is instead a reductive, fictionalized potboiler regarding Miller’s one-man mission to ferret out the truth about the covert, purportedly reliable intelligence about Iraq’s weapons program being spoon-fed to the whole world.

Along his road to going rogue, Miller encounters of host of half-written ciphers, each trying to extract information from him to further their own aims—at one point, Miller’s backpack was weighted down more by business cards than MREs. Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) is a Paul Bremer-esque Pentagon hack carrying the water for his neocon minders. Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson, wearing a five-day growth and constipated scowl) is the CIA bureau chief who calls bullshit on the supposedly sound intelligence regarding the presence of WMDs. And, Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) is a Wall Street Journal reporter—and Judith Miller doppelganger—who, having helped Poundstone propound his warmongering propaganda, is now suspicious of him and his clandestine informant who goes by the code name “Magellan."

In Greengrass’ brilliant, affecting United 93, the director enlarged a single, incendiary incident into a broader canvas to create a taut, authentic and comprehensive portrait of the Sept. 11 attack. By contrast, screenwriter Brian Helgeland (still running off the fumes of L.A. Confidential) distills the disreputable underpinning for the war and all its complexities into a flurried chase to track down one Saddam general or commandeer one little black book.

Green Zone is credited as having been inspired by Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, the 2006 book by Washington Post war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran. However, in place of the novel’s sardonic juxtaposition between the gilded, Oz-like bubble encasing the Green Zone and the social and ethnic tumult brewing outside its gilded gates, Greengrass fashions an action-thriller in which sound, fury and his camera-in-a-blender camouflage the narrative shortcomings of a revisionist fantasy in which one man uncovers and exposes the lies that led us to war. Instead, in terms of tone and relevance, Green Zone needed more Dr. Strangelove and less Jason Bourne.

Neil Morris

*Orginally published at

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