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