March 12, 2010 / by tom
Director Paul Greengrass gives the Iraq War the “Bourne” treatment in the new film Green Zone. Reteamed with his Bourne star, Matt Damon plays U.S. Army chief warrant officer Roy Miller. Tasked with finding weapons of mass destruction, he’s becoming increasingly frustrated with repeatedly coming up empty. When his superiors begin to bristle at his pointed questions regarding the woefully inaccurate intel they’ve been providing, Miller goes off the reservation and begins to search for WMD using his own sources. Miller almost instantly, with the help of anti-Ba’athist local Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), stumbles on to a top secret strategy meeting of the upper echelon of Saddaam Hussein’s Republican Guard. Armed with this information he is quickly forced to choose sides between the Bush administration, represented by Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), and the CIA, represented by Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson). [morelink]
The film is “inspired by” the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. The author states in the book’s forward that he aimed to treat the invasion of Iraq as a given; instead choosing to focus on how the post-invasion occupation was handled. Which is interesting in that the film is single-mindedly preoccupied with what led up to the war. The film isn’t as much about the search for WMD as it is about the search for “Magellan,” the mysterious Iraqi insider who served as the source for WMD intel that was used by the Bush administration to justify the march to war. This shadowy source was repeatedly cited by Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), transparently based on the New York Times’ Judith Miller.
Greengrass strives, with varying degrees of success, to add excitement to edification; his camera constantly moving in an effort to capture the confusion and chaos of urban warfare. However, the film becomes progressively (pun intended) bogged down in its own didactic wish-fulfillment fantasy of a war exposed. As it posits that the WMD information was a complete fabrication, it never so much as mentions that virtually every other Western nation (even the ones opposed to invasion) had independently arrived at the same erroneous conclusion.
Politics aside, for all of Greengrass’ shaky-cam bravado, the film still plods along. The opening scene is exciting, but following that the proceedings slow down considerably. Miller marches through scenes [that] have temper tantrums of self-righteous indignation that would get an actual soldier court-martialed (at best) or fragged (at worst). Green Zone’s climax is relatively exciting but marred by Greengrass’ over-reliance on his signature unsteady camerawork. The film’s final action set-piece devolves into who-knows-who shooting at who-knows-what. While that might recreate the perplexing commotion of a firefight, it makes for unsatisfying storytelling.