Green Zone is the third collaboration between director Paul Greengrass and actor Matt Damon. Previously, the two brought us The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. If you are hoping for another adrenaline laced conspiracy drama, this movie will meet you half way. There is conspiracy in excess, but the adrenaline-not so much.
The first half hour does a great job of depicting how unstable conditions in Baghdad were early on in the Iraq war. Greengrass ratchets up the tension and dread much like Kathryn Bigelow did in The Hurt Locker, by merely giving us a glimpse into everyday life after the initial destabilization of Iraq. Soldiers wear heavy uniforms in blistering conditions, and crowded city streets could easily be harboring suicide bombers or other dangers. Everyone is constantly and understandably on edge.
Unfortunately, during the second half of the movie much of the action takes place at night. Greengrass elected to film these scenes with his signature hand-cam, and these scenes are grainy, jarring and indecipherable.
I don’t mind watching documentary style film, and fortunately I don’t get sick from shaky cam (heed my warning, if you have any tendency to get nauseous during this type of camera work, this movie will do you in), but it is really annoying when you cannot see anything that is going on. I found my mind wandering to my mental list of chores during some really crucial chase scenes, because I just kind of gave up on trying to figure out what is going on.
It is also an odd contrast whenever the film transitions from night to day, because you go from completely blurry to crisp and clear. It’s really distracting.
Greengrass also chose to inject heavy handed politics without bringing anything new or original to the table. Guess what? George Bush lied. George Bush and his administration misled the American people into war. There were no weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration relied on faulty Intel. You get the point.
All these familiar revelations are brought front and center by the story of how one soldier single -handedly exposed the truth behind the administration’s lies. Matt Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Miller, who becomes suspicious of the intelligence behind the weapons of mass destruction after the first few raids are a bust.
While Miller’s concerns are legitimate, Greengrass ruins any thoughtful dissection of the issue by making all of Damon’s superiors evil, stubborn and unconscionable in their actions. There is a lone renegade CIA agent (played by Brendan Gleeson) who sort of helps Miller, but of course has ulterior motives.
In fact almost everyone in the movie (save for saintly Miller) has their own agenda, which I found a lot more interesting than what Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland chose to concentrate on in this movie.
Greg Kinnear is cartoonishly wicked as a member of the defense department who leaks info to a journalist (Amy Ryan) for the Wall Street Journal, supposedly to spread misinformation to the American public. She stupidly takes everything she is spoon-fed at face value, and thus becomes an unwitting cog in the machine trying to justify an unjust war. The consequences of her ineptitude are never examined.
Khalid Abdallah adds a rare human touch as an Iraqi who tries to help Miller. He wants to help his country, and bluntly declares, “It is not for you to decide what happens here.”
I’ll give Green Zone a marginal recommendation because there are some interesting ideas in the movie. In particular, I wish Greengrass would have explored the whole concept of individual ego and hubris contributing to a botched post-invasion occupation. Why try to pound something down our throats that is already largely accepted as fact?
This is Matt Damon’s Syriana, it just isn’t quite as smart or interesting.