Green Zone

2010-06-01 09:16
Green Zone

What it's about:

US Army chief Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his team are tasked with the hunt for WMDs during the early months of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq – and they come up empty each and every time. Frustrated by the lack of results and his superiors' stubbornness, Miller joins forces with skeptical CIA agent Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) to get to the bottom of the army's faulty intelligence, and starts to question the reasons for war, uncovering a 'shocking', though obvious, conspiracy.

What we thought:

Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass reunites with his go-to action man for a bout of Bourne-in-Baghdad, with Damon again playing an indentured hired gun who goes rogue once he's seen the ugly, corrupt face of the bureaucracy he serves. If you've enjoyed the Bourne movies, you'll no doubt welcome the relentless pace and handheld camerawork that gives Greengrass movies their blink-and-you'll-miss-it intensity.

Set in the very real war zone of just-liberated Baghdad, that energy and almost nauseating editing is well placed to convey the mechanics of modern warfare and gives a realistic view of armed combat in the dusty, desolate streets of the Iraqi capital. Unlike recent award-magnets The Hurt Locker, Stop-Loss and The Messenger, Green Zone takes a less introspective look at the war. What it does is throw into question the very reason for the war and how the entire Bush administration was suckered into motivating the invasion under the premise of dismantling the country's chemical and biological weapons programme.

Only, what they discovered is what we suspected from the start – that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and a potentially embarrassing scandal for the US and her allies was allayed by launching more vociferous searches across the desert. As Miller is told by one of his superiors when he raises doubts about the intelligence the armed forces have been receiving, what they need is something to show the world on CNN. Or "put dope on the table", as the homicide detectives on The Wire put it.

Only the origins of the sketchy intelligence, and the basis on which the Coalition of the Willing have launched this entire campaign, according to Greengrass and writer Brian Helgeland, is a condensed hodge-podge of documented fact and free interpretation to clue in those who didn’t quite understand the war to begin with. In this version of events, 'inspired' by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, the army has one sole source, code-named Magellan, whose existence is tacitly leaked by the Pentagon's intelligence expert Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) to Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan). As the war lumbers into its fifth week with still no WMD discovery, a suspicious Dayne finds an ally and informant in Miller.

It all sounds like a rather liberal take on what continues to be the biggest fraud in world history. Add to that an ex-Shia military man named Freddie who witnesses a secret meeting between Iraqi Army top brass and willingly supplies the information to the US Army. Like the reasons for the war itself, the lines between fact and fiction, ally and enemy becomes very blurry and this one-size-fits-all approach to storytelling at least allows Greengrass to do what he's best at: make your heart race.

The action sequences – of which there are many – are chaotic and breathless and shot in a documentary style. If jittery, out of focus camera angles are not your thing, steer clear. It looks and feels authentic, and Damon is muscular and captivating as the broody Miller. However, it is a tough task to marry the visual prowess of Green Zone with the irrelevance of the plot. It's not as if the movie is going to end with George W. Bush sheepishly facing the music before the UN Security Council, admitting the many flaws of his campaign and resigning in disgrace. It all feels like a fairy tale in which Cinderella has exposed her wicked stepsisters' wickedness to the prince, but turns out he doesn’t really fancy her either.

Frenetic editing and white-knuckle action make this one of the more energetic war movies around. Also serves as a handy Iraq War for Dummies guide.

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.