In March 2003, all of America was worked up into a lather — half slavering to bomb Iraq and the other half struggling to restrain the first half. On the ground, soldiers did what they could and the facts trickled slowly into our consciousness back home. Green Zone benefits from seven years of hindsight and “new intel” and somewhat from a more receptive and disenchanted audience as well. Matt Damon plays the chief of an army unit whose missions are to find and dispose of all those super double confirmed for sure WMDs. You remember those, right? So does director Paul Greengrass. Damon’s character is in a position to really see the value of the intelligence reports that sent us into Iraq, and you might not be shocked to find that he’s not buying it.
Green Zone dares to fictionally find the source of the reports and have Damon go after it, action hero style. I’m not meaning to say that this film sacrifices the already-plenty-heroic vÃ©ritÃ© of our armed forces for cinematic slickness. By no means does it do that. Bourne sequels helmer Greengrass merely continues his grand tradition of You! Are! There! camera work which can occasionally artificially elevate a stroll around a smooth road into something very exciting. At times, this makes the film feel gritty and real, like the footage from an embedded press corps, but at other times it flows like a latter-day James Bond film with choppy editing and overly tight shots, covering up the lack of purpose with adrenaline. Even the pencil pushers Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson exist in a clippy and exciting world. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (United 93 and The Hurt Locker) lets the camera roll, bounce, jitter, and get up his actor’s noses. In the claustrophobic horror of United 93 (also Greengrass) or the nerve-jangling inside of a bomb-wired car, that makes more sense than in a war movie in open terrain with trained soldiers. One of my companions got seriously motion sick, so if you had trouble with the Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, maybe you should wait for video.
That said, the pacing was strong, the casting was perfect, and the Message made for an interesting premise. The Moroccan and Spanish locations felt real and aquiver with danger. Is it a true story or wish fulfillment/justice fantasy? Screenwriter Brian “spotty resume for an Oscar-winner” Helgeland based the story on Washington Post reporter’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, which does not have a story like this in it. Helgeland clearly got the tone and environs and political disconnect from here but Damon’s heroic chief? The fiction is embedded deeply in a very real story, which makes for fun storytelling. I enjoyed it from my mournful “we told you so” perspective as the salute it was; as an action movie it delivered what I needed but did get a little tight on the shots even for my taste. Green Zone is probably not for everyone, but it is a solid piece of entertainment.
MPAA Rating R- violence and language
Release date 3/12/10
Time in minutes 115
Director Paul Greengrass
Studio Universal Pictures