Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review: Green Zone (2010)

* * *

Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon

Since its theatrical release a few months ago, I've heard Green Zone characterized as both anti-American and as pro-American propaganda. Truth be told, while the film's premise is rooted in important questions about U.S. foreign policy, the political takes a backseat to more standard genre preoccupations. Honestly, you might as well just call it "Bourne Goes To Iraq."

Loosely based on the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the film follows Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), who is tasked with finding WMDs. The situation on the ground is total chaos as Miller and his team show up to investigate a possible WMD site and have to contend not only with insurgents firing at them, but also with people looting the site. There just aren't enough troops to secure the area and when Miller and his team finally get inside, they find nothing. Given that this has happened multiple times before, a frustrated Miller begins questioning the intelligence that they've been given, which gains him no friends in the army, but gets him an ally in the form of Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), the CIA's Baghdad bureau chief.

Together, Brown and Miller work to find the identity of "Magellan," the source who provided the information that served as the justification for invasion. This is no easy feat and they're working against the clock, as a special forces team lead by Major Briggs (Jason Isaacs) is also working to find the source and eliminate him so that he can't reveal the truth about the fabricated information regarding Iraq's WMD program.

Green Zone is a bit of a mixed bag, but for the most part the film works well. The characterization of the political situation as a mess of competing interests and narratives is interesting and, I think, probably more accurate most of us would be comfortable believing. Everyone is on the same "side," yes, but there are warring sides within that side that pretty much ensures that a series of smaller scale power struggles will get in the way of efforts to stabilize the social/political powder keg of post-Saddam Iraq. Everyone wants to be in control of "the story" of Iraq's liberation, regardless of whether or not that story has any real connection to reality. In one of the more telling scenes, Miller attends a meeting to discuss military progress and openly questions the Magellan source, only to be informed by his superior that his job is to find WMDs, not question military intelligence. Given that Miller and his team put their lives on the line every time they go to one of the alleged sites (and, as he points out, have suffered casualties in the process), you would think that the quality of the intelligence sending them there would very much be his concern. The film shows an emphasis at every level on not asking questions but simply moving forward on the assumption that information is true. Again, this is probably a lot more true to life than many of us are comfortable believing.

Though the film obviously has very strong political views, I would be hard pressed to describe it as a political film. By the end Green Zone becomes a fairly routine action thriller which casts Miller as a one man army determined to expose the truth. The action sequences are well done but making them the centrepiece to the story cheapens the aspirations the film seems to have to make a strong political statement. The ending, which is meant to be triumphant even if only in a minor sense, falls flat, in part because though the film is critical of the spread of misinformation through a blind acceptance of it, it's a lot softer on journalists than it could be. Still, for all that, it's a pretty solid genre film, even if it could have been more.


Candice Frederick said...

i always wondered why more peopel didn't watch this movie. i enjoyed it. yes it's hard to see Matt Damon play anyone but BOurne but this was a good film, with a good story.

Norma Desmond said...

In the last six months or so alone Damon played three very distinct characters in Green Zone, The Informant! and Invictus. He's definitely a very versatile actor.