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Yep, that line above pretty much sums up the film Green Zone to perfection. It is not only used once, sober and matter-of-fact, but a second time as a retort with dry sarcasm. America invaded Iraq with the sole purpose of giving Saddam Hussein the boot and entrenching themselves into the very infrastructure of the country, causing it to not only have a puppet leader, but pretty much put their hand up the backside of the entire nation. At least this is what screenwriter Brian Helgeland would have us believe, naivety withstanding, even going so far as to say it was inspired by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s non-fiction tome Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone. Using the conspiracy of the US government lying to the American people about faulty intel pertaining to WMDs, the Pentagon got us in, took out the army, and watched as it all imploded in their faces. It’s somewhat ironic that the man who brought us the harrowing, heroic final moments of terrorist collateral in United 93 would then make the film showing our nation’s arrogance and supposed trickery to attempt a coup of the Middle East.

Paul Greengrass is his name, and while you may know him as the man behind the final two installments of the Bourne Trilogy, he is also the Brit behind one of my favorite films of all time, Bloody Sunday. Each one of his films utilizes the shaky-cam style of getting right into the action and becoming just as disoriented as the characters onscreen, but this new entry is the first to bother me. His first two films portrayed true-life events in a sort of quasi-documentary style, so it fit like a glove, and the Bourne films took the gimmick to enhance their extreme kinetic action and fight choreography. With Green Zone, however, the need for the visceral assault was somewhat unwarranted. Yes, the film takes place in a war zone, but when comparing the picture quality here to something like Saving Private Ryan, you can understand what I’m saying. Spielberg used cameras that stayed in focus throughout their turbulent escapades; Greengrass, however, uses very high grain and dark visages of humanity being strewn about. As a means for suspense and high-octane battles, it works psychologically for sure, I just wish I could see what was going on, or at least what actor they were showing.

The story itself deals with one soldier’s inability to do what he’s told without asking what it is all for. Matt Damon’s Miller goes off the reservation—having sent his men into three high-priority locations to not even find a trace of WMDs—and crosses paths with the CIA, the Pentagon, and the press. Despite his return to work with Greengrass, as well as the visual aesthetic and marketing push, Green Zone is not Bourne Four, nor is it even close to being so. There is no ‘one man against the world’ ass-kicking going on here, the story is one of political interference and changing of the guard in government and how it affects the troops on the ground. While Langley and Washington compete in a pissing contest over whether old school tactics of keeping the defeated nation’s army intact to create stability and familiarity or new school assumptions that power can be manufactured because the idea looks good on paper, the troops are riding into supposed storage areas for nuclear and biological weapons, getting killed for their troubles when the men sending them there already know the holds are empty.

The acting is superb throughout; Damon has a knack for being both the take-no-prisoners leader and sympathetic everyman with a moral purpose and duty to his job. He sees that things aren’t adding up, but instead of sitting back and ignoring the facts, he decides to do something about it. Siding with Brendan Gleeson’s CIA agent, Damon does what he can to secure a witness taken from him by people higher up the food chain. This witness organized a meeting with Republican Guard generals, including the Jack of Clubs Al Rawi, (played very effectively by a menacing Yigal Naor), a man that is the key to everything going on. Leading the cover-up of what Damon’s Miller has stumbled upon by breaking this party up is Greg Kinnear’s White House liaison Poundstone, a man who looks at the numbers and does what he needs to get results. If that means feeding coded half-truths to Amy Ryan’s Lawrie Dayen of the Wall Street Journal—a role that wastes her considerable talents—then so be it. While it’s kind of fun watching these three try to use Miller for their own benefits, or maybe the country’s, the fact they all converge right after another only shows the laziness of the script. And it is too bad because the film is pretty enthralling on the whole; the secrets being uncovered are unfortunately brought into the light for the audience about twenty minutes before the characters find out, each and every time.

Therefore, the ending is foreshadowed pretty much around the halfway point, right about that time all the major players begin to overlap on each other’s journeys. But, to the filmmakers’ credit, I was still heavily invested in watching it all play out. I began to wonder if Damon would figure out what was going on and perhaps change sides or maybe Khalid Abdalla’s Freddy—an Iraqi local who gives Miller the intel on Al Rawi’s whereabouts, much to the chagrin of the US government, and one of the best performances of the film—would decide to change affiliations when he sees that the men he thought were on his side may be looking to deal with the enemy of their enemy, namely his. Sticking around also allows you to be present for a pretty invigorating chase through the war zone posing as a city, in stark contrast to the Imperial Emerald City housing US forces at a poolside resort. All the conspiracies and political intrigue culminate into this one extended race between Damon and an almost unrecognizable Jason Isaacs—who truly steals the show as the hard-edged, dirty-handed executioner in Kinnear’s pocket, with so good an American accent that he makes Gleeson’s horrid linguistics seem even worse—that was missing just one thing. You guessed it, the visual clarity to have a clue as to what was happening during all the running, gunshots, and explosives. For a story so transparent, the sights and sounds couldn’t have been more obscured.

Green Zone 7/10

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photography:
[1] MATT DAMON and director Paul Greengrass re-team for “Green Zone”. In the thriller, Damon stars as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, a rogue U.S. Army officer who must hunt through covert and faulty intelligence hidden on foreign soil before war escalates in an unstable region. Photo Credit: Jasin Boland. Copyright: © 2010 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] Defense intelligence agent Clark Poundstone (GREG KINNEAR) is questioned by journalist Lawrie Dayne (AMY RYAN) in “Green Zone”. In the thriller, Matt Damon stars as a rogue U.S. Army officer who must hunt through covert and faulty intelligence hidden on foreign soil before war escalates in an unstable region. Photo Credit: Jasin Boland. Copyright: © 2010 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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