Review: Green Zone

ALEX WETTEN isn’t blown away ‘a schizophrenic battle between damaging conspiracy thriller and’ explosive ‘action movie.’

Baghdad Matt Damon Paul Greengrass

The first images of war-torn Baghdad are accompanied not by the sound of gunfire, but rather the babble of news reporters. This sets the tone for Paul Greengrass’ new film Green Zone, perhaps the most explicitly political movie to emerge from Hollywood about the war in Iraq.

The problem is that the film is caught in a schizophrenic battle between damaging conspiracy thriller and harmless action movie.

Green Zone is a companion-piece to United 93 in its depiction of the response to 9/11 and it is successful in highlighting America’s disastrous lack of intelligence, literally, throughout the invasion of Iraq. However, Green Zone simply doesn’t pack the punch of its partner because the kinetic style of filmmaking which Greengrass employed to great success in his two instalments of the Bourne trilogy proves more interesting than the film’s plot. This is not accidental. The director admitted that the twin-like semblance between Green Zone and the Bourne films was a calculated move to bring the film’s message to a wider audience. With reasonable box office takings, Green Zone may prove a more effective protest, even if it is at the expense of the film’s integrity.

The film sees captain Roy Miller (Matt Damon) tearing around military compounds, detention centres and rubble-strewn streets in an attempt to unearth the truth about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. The truth, as we now know, is that they didn’t exist but as we are drawn deeper into the bowels of Baghdad, we become aware of the extent to which America remained wilfully ignorant of this essential information. Chiefly responsible for this is Pentagon representative Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) who intends to prevent the truth from surfacing by any means necessary.

Damon reprises his role as Jason Bourne, simply minus the amnesia, plus shades. Unfortunately, the role does not transfer so simply; where Damon was able to hint at a complex individual through the cracks in Bourne’s cool exterior, the character of Miller is so vacuous that any signs of inner turmoil come across as basic confusion. Imagine Action Man on Question Time and that approximates how captain Miller handles situations not involving close combat. This was typified by an exchange where a soldier claimed they might all get shot performing an unnecessary task. Miller’s response: ‘Get your fucking game face on!’

Greengrass composes scenes so meticulously, often with astonishing attention to detail, that the shaky camerawork seems contrived. No matter how faithfully Greengrass recreates the Iraq described in the film’s source material – Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City – the overall effect is artifice, not immersion. This is until around the 60-minute-mark when a switch flicks and the viewer is taken into an entirely different movie; captain Miller goes native and the film’s ambitions as a political thriller take a back seat as a first-rate action flick unfolds. Significantly, much of the film from this point on takes place at night, allowing the director to focus more upon atmosphere and tension. As the pace ratchets up the cameraman increasingly becomes a character in the film, sprinting after Miller down alleyways and peering out from behind corners. The film builds towards a climactic chase scene, which is both exhilarating and skilfully shot, ending with a surprising twist that intelligently sums up why America was doomed to fail in Iraq – no mean feat for a few inches of celluloid.

Unfortunately, the film ends in the style it began by bumbling into an awkward conclusion where the political message is reaffirmed, then immediately undermined. For a film essentially based upon a true story, it is infuriating that it settles for a fantasy feel-good ending where the crooks of the tale are exposed to the world. This was the worst of the film’s various cop-outs as viewers leave feeling satisfied that justice was done, even though the 114 minutes preceding the final 60 seconds were building a case to show otherwise.

Green Zone is a commendable film both for its intention to convey a political message to its audience (the closing shot of the Iraqi oil fields leaves no doubt that Greengrass asks us to question America’s motives for going to war) and as an intelligent and skilfully made action movie. However, at no point does the film reconcile these two ambitions causing each strength to cancel the other out.