GREEN ZONE is a political action thriller from a gifted director and featuring his smart, Oscar winning, movie star collaborator. It works and it doesn’t.
Taking place in 2003, GREEN ZONE follows a soldier named Miller (Matt Damon) as he searches for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Miller becomes increasingly frustrated as he and his team risk their lives to ultimately find nothing—no WMDs. Each site searched is vacant and has often been empty for some time. Miller wonders about the intelligence.
The problem with the intelligence appears to be political. In 2003, there was a push to confirm the presence of WMDs and to rebuild the government. In GREEN ZONE, the US Administration’s civilian official in charge is Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), who is depicted without mentioning parties, as a neo-conservative hell-bent on doing things his way. Poundstone butts heads with Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) who is with the CIA. The film has fun with this conflict. At one point, Poundstone says that Brown has been in the Middle East too long and doesn’t understand what’s needed. Such banter will no doubt elicit more than a few chuckles from viewers liberal and conservative alike.
After questioning the quality of intelligence, Miller finds himself working with Brown. The confusing series of alliances includes Poundstrone’s military team headed by Briggs (Jason Isaacs) who seems to relish carrying out violent orders. GREEN ZONE expects us to believe that since no WMDs were ever found, there must have been a cover-up in the reasons for going to war in the first place. Hopefully, audiences will understand that the film is a work of fiction.
Paul Greengrass made UNITED 93, one of the finest movies about 9/11. As I remember it, UNITED 93 combined mainly factual material with what was believed to have occurred on that ill-fated flight. No one seriously questioned that film’s handling of the facts. GREEN ZONE in contrast is inspired by a book by Rajiv Chandresekaran called IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone. Although I’ve not read the book, it is reportedly a work of non-fiction, therefore, screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s script is a fictionalized version of it. And to make the movie entertaining, certain liberties had to be taken. To be fair, I join in the voices that believe that there were no WMDs, but the heavy-handed accusatory tone of this film is tough to stomach at times.
Matt Damon is very good in the role of a soldier trying to do his job sometimes too well. It is good to see Brendan Gleeson taking on an American accent and playing a lumbering CIA agent. The chemistry between Damon and Gleeson is good, especially when Gleeson’s character brings Damon into his world. It is impossible not to compare Damon’s work here to his oft alter-ego Jason Bourne, and the film really doesn’t try to hide it. There is a conspiracy afoot in GREEN ZONE and only Matt Damon, whatever you want to call him, can bring the bad guys down.
The action in the film is tight, but the visual scope problematic. Shot roughly, many images are extremely grainy and the camera jumps around quite a bit especially as the action heats up. Unlike Ridley Scott’s films where the images of action are fast but fairly sharp, Greengrass permits his images to get very murky, making it tough to tell one character from another. We saw this technique somewhat in the BOURNE movies, but here Greengrass makes things a bit dirtier. And it is all intentional, of course, but I actually looked away in one sequence concerned that I’d get a little nauseous. Still, the action works, especially because Damon is so convincing in the action role.
GREEN ZONE works as an action thriller but shouldn’t be considered a history lesson.