Green Zone (2010) dir. Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Khalid Abdalla, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan
By Alan Bacchus
‘Green Zone’ is probably Paul Greengrass least successful film of his post 'Bloody Sunday' creative output, but considering the high bar of work he’s been involved with we unfortunately have those other films to compare to. Under anyone else’s watch ‘Green Zone’ is terrific picture.
Over the decade Greengrass has carved a niche body of work of gritty action realism and documentary-like dramatization of political events. ‘Green Zone’ falls somewhere in between both genres. It’s a shame because there’s some powerful ideas thrown around which if dramatized using say, an Oliver Stone or Steven Soderbergh/Stephen Gaghan aesthetic Greengrass would have had a very incendiary film on his hands. But because he hits the mark so squarely on the action thriller elements, the real world conspiratory postulations get lost in the chases and gunfights.
The hot button issue at stake here are those pesky WMDs which the Bush administration used to convince the nation and the world to go to war in Iraq. Joe Miller (Matt Damon) is an officer in Iraq charged with finding these bombs. For each mission he received so-called ‘intelligence’ briefings of suspected or even confirmed WMD locations. But each and every time he goes there, his team comes up empty. It’s the elephant in the room which no one wants to talk about except for Miller when he blunting questions the intelligence in a large group meeting. As the smarmy political wonk Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) looks on with worry, we figure there’s a cover up going on somewhere.
Miller finds an ally in the CIA, and works with Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) to covertly source out informants who can uncover the truth. Miller also teams up with an Iraqi civilian to help in the hunt but whose own personal vendetta against the former Bathe/Hussain government threatens to subvert Miller’s action. Real life Hussain general General Al-Rawi (Yigal Naor) becomes the main target, a man whose been playing both sides of the Bathists and the US Government and holds to key to the conspiracy.
The most admirable aspect of 'Green Zone', much like his Bourne films is a heightened sense of urgency which propels the picture forward. It’s a race from start to finish, climaxing in a taut and tightly edited chase and confrontation. This is Greengrass at his best, pulse pounding action, shot and edited with blistering pace. Damon plays Miller with the same emotionally detached austerity as Jason Bourne. While there’s little to differentiate these two characters, these traits fit the characters of military officer in a hostile environment such as Iraq perfectly. But with familiar grounded treaded for the third time, Greengrass has essentially killed this genre.
If there's a problem it lies in Brian Helgeland’s script – a prolific hired-gun writer whose body of work leans heavily to traditional genre action thrillers than the attention-to-detail political savvy this film needed to have to be truly thought-provoking. In ‘Bloody Sunday’ and ‘United 93’ Greengrass wrote his own screenplays, and it's no coincidence here another layer of depth into the time, place and character of this recent and important period of history is missing.
That said, it still makes for a thrill ride worthy of Greengrass’s credit, even though the US military establishment has been left largely unscathed.