One locker over

Green Zone, Iraq War thriller, rated R, Re­gal Sta­dium 14, 3 chiles

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The tim­ing for Green Zone couldn’t be bet­ter. Af­ter years of of­ten lousy movies about the Iraq War, di­rec­tor Kathryn Bigelow hung a “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” ban­ner over the Os­car stage. Her thriller The Hurt Locker and, to a lesser ex­tent, Oren Mover­man’s drama The Mes­sen­ger were the first movies about the war to re­ally catch hold of the pub­lic’s imagination. And now, di­rec­tor Paul Green­grass reteams with Matt Da­mon to tell a story that com­bines the spirit of their Bourne thrill rides with the Bush-era top­i­cal­ity of Green­grass’ United 93.

Green Zone is a pro-sol­dier movie. It por­trays our men and women in uni­form as brave, de­cent, pro­fes­sional, and pos­sess­ing strong moral com­passes. It also makes the case that we shouldn’t lie about the rea­sons we put th­ese peo­ple in harm’s way. The film opens in 2003 with some im­pres­sive spe­cial ef­fects to il­lus­trate the shock-and-awe ex­plo­sions un­der­way in Bagh­dad. We join Chief War­rant Of­fi­cer Roy Miller (Da­mon) as he and his com­pany risk life and limb to take out a sniper and in­fil­trate a ware­house where, they’ve been told, some of Iraq’s weapons of mass de­struc­tion are stored. There’s noth­ing there.

Miller is the kind of sol­dier who doesn’t see his duty sim­ply as a job. He wants to make a dif­fer­ence, and he’s frus­trated that he isn’t do­ing so. Fur­ther­more, he’s up­set that men are dy­ing while looking for WMDs that aren’t there. He com­plains to his su­pe­ri­ors, ques­tion­ing the in­tel­li­gence that is be­ing passed on to him. They as­sure him that it’s good and brush him aside.

His com­plaints reach the ears of two peo­ple who can help. Martin Brown (the al­ways-wel­come Bren­dan Glee­son) is a mem­ber of the CIA who thinks his agency is be­ing cut out of the loop. He’s an ex­pert in Mid­dle East re­la­tions, and he sus­pects the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s post-in­va­sion strat­egy is wrong­headed. Miller also meets an Iraqi man named Freddy (Khalid Ab­dalla, in a fab­u­lous per­for­mance) who wants to save his coun­try from ruin. Through th­ese two men, Miller is set on a path to find Iraqi gen­eral Al Rawi (Igal Naor), who as­sured U.S. of­fi­cials that no WMD pro­gram in Iraq ex­isted yet was used as an anony­mous source to re­port that such a pro­gram did ex­ist.

There are, of course, forces op­pos­ing Miller on his quest. Greg Kin­n­ear plays Clark Pound­stone, a suit who rep­re­sents Wash­ing­ton’s in­ter­ests. As you might imag­ine, those in­ter­ests do not re­flect what is best for the Iraqi peo­ple or even the Amer­i­can sol­diers. With con­nec­tions in the me­dia and a spe­cial mil­i­tary unit at his dis­posal, Pound­stone is part pub­lic-re­la­tions man, part diplo­mat, and part han­dler of prob­lems such the one Miller poses. I like Kin­n­ear best as a bad guy, and here he plays a bad guy who is cer­tain he is do­ing the right thing. It fits.

Ob­vi­ously, this is po­lit­i­cally charged ma­te­rial, al­though at this point even peo­ple I know who voted for Bush and gen­er­ally ap­proved of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies have trou­ble ex­plain­ing many de­ci­sions made in 2003. Over time, noth­ing has turned up to jus­tify the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s claims about the ex­is­tence of an Iraqi WMD pro­gram or the tac­ti­cal de­ci­sions made in the wake of the in­va­sion. Heck, Bush him­self has said the “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” ban­ner “con­veyed the wrong mes­sage.” Whether you feel there were or weren’t WMDs is ir­rel­e­vant. You’re prob­a­bly here to see a po­lit­i­cal thriller, and Green Zone is a good one.

Writer Brian Hel­ge­land ( Mys­tic River) adapted the screen­play from Ra­jiv Chan­drasekaran’s novel Im­pe­rial Life in the Emer­ald City: In­side

Iraq’s Green Zone and did an ad­mirable job of mak­ing the movie sim­ple and clear, even while jug­gling po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary strat­egy, clash­ing cul­tures, and com­plex themes. An un­for­tu­nate byprod­uct of this sim­pli­fi­ca­tion is that nearly ev­ery line of di­a­logue is ex­po­si­tion, but chances are good you’re not lin­ing up to see Matt Da­mon in com­bat fa­tigues for nu­ance of char­ac­ter. Da­mon is more of an action hero than a re­al­is­tic sol­dier here, and it’s a typ­i­cal movie-star role — if the char­ac­ter has any flaws, he show­cased them while I was in the bath­room. Green­grass and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Barry Ack­royd (who also did The

Hurt Locker) use the same style that Green­grass uses in the Bourne films: the hand-held cam­era, the “snatch and grab” edit­ing, the whirl­wind of vi­sion. This ap­proach is ef­fec­tive in adding im­me­di­acy, but I’m not a big fan of it. More to the point, Bigelow and her ed­i­tors showed us how to do it right in The Hurt Locker: don’t snatch or grab any­thing that doesn’t have mean­ing. Don’t use con­fu­sion as a sub­sti­tute for ten­sion. Dur­ing

Green Zone’s cli­mac­tic chase, I rarely had much of an inkling of what was hap­pen­ing and des­per­ately wanted a fast-for­ward but­ton, even if the con­clu­sion of the chase was sat­is­fy­ing.

How­ever, the movie that Green Zone re­minded me of the most was not The Hurt Locker but The Wizard of Oz. Miller is sent on a wild goose chase, just as Dorothy was when she was asked to re­trieve the Wicked Witch of the West’s broom­stick. Like Dorothy, Miller was work­ing for leaders who ap­peared to be all pow­er­ful but who turned out not to be af­ter the cur­tain was pulled back. When Dorothy killed the Witch, the Witch’s army was over­joyed to be free, just like many mem­bers of the Iraqi army af­ter the U.S. re­moved Sad­dam Hus­sein from power. In­deed,

Green Zone sug­gests that the big­gest mis­take the U.S. made was in fir­ing the Iraqi army rather than us­ing it to aid re­con­struc­tion of the coun­try. The ground troops show­cased an in­cred­i­ble amount of heart and courage. If only their lead­er­ship had a brain. ◀

Good thrill hunt­ing: Amy Ryan and Matt Da­mon

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