Green Zone

Movie review by Greg Carlson

A farfetched fantasy of the highest order, Paul Greengrass’ “Green Zone” re-teams the director with Matt Damon, here playing a truth-seeking soldier in a Byzantine hall of mirrors in 2003 Iraq. The credits claim that Brian Helgeland’s script was inspired by Washington Post journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s 2006 non-fiction book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone,” and the Oz reference is apt, as “Green Zone” blends credulity-stretching heroism with anti-Bush political commentary. To a certain extent, the movie gets to have its cake and eat it too, as the fierce action violence contrasts with the director’s harsh assessment of the dubious matters of state.

Damon plays Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, a focused and highly moral professional whose team has been sent on one too many wild goose chases looking for non-existent weapons of mass destruction. At a briefing, Miller has the audacity to question the faulty intelligence, and is promptly silenced by superior officers. Quickly running afoul of sinister Pentagon Special Intelligence agent Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), Miller casts his lot with grizzled CIA bureau chief Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a voice of reason in an otherwise topsy turvy fiasco. When Greengrass is not staging tense sequences of urban combat, he devotes time to the battle between Poundstone and Brown, with Miller caught in the middle.

Amy Ryan also shows up a few times as the Judith Miller-esque Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne, but the talented performer is underutilized, almost as if the movie is too impatient to give her anything to do outside of helping Miller put the pieces of the puzzle together. Faring slightly better is Khalid Abdalla as Freddy, a local who befriends Miller even as he expresses reservations about American trustworthiness. Despite the oversimplified explanations of Freddy’s frustrations, the actor, who appeared in Greengrass’ “United 93,” brings depth to what might have been a sketchily constructed figure.

Along with its kinship to the superior “United 93,” reviews of “Green Zone” inevitably mention the Greengrass/Damon partnership on the Bourne sequels, and the comparisons are apt. Miller, like Bourne, inevitably comes to operate as a lone wolf, surviving by his wits as well as some dumb luck. Greengrass also stages the action with his familiar kinetics, working with editor Christopher Rouse to slice up Barry Ackroyd’s purposefully shaky photography. Damon is nicely cast, offering an earnestness that borders on naïve until the overwhelming evidence of his country’s failures causes him to snap.

“Green Zone” calls to mind Charles Ferguson’s incredible documentary “No End in Sight,” a sobering assessment of the stunning arrogance of Bush policy in the aftermath of “Shock and Awe.” Several key boondoggles addressed by Ferguson, such as the disbanding of the Iraqi military and paramilitary, are referenced in “Green Zone.” Most nauseating, however, is the grim realization that the reasons for going to war in the first place were predicated on vapor. Greengrass cannot help but include the clip of George Bush smugly, prematurely asserting that the mission was accomplished, and the oft broadcast speech is no less sickening today.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/15/10.

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