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GREEN ZONE
(***˝)

Movie Review by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Paul Greengrass
Written by:
Screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on
book: "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Starring:
Matt Damon, Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear
Running time:
155 minutes
Released:
03/12/10
Rated R for violence and language.
"...a heart-jacking action film that manages to engage in a direct and intelligent way with the causes of the war and its at-any-price mission to depose Saddam Hussein"
A fictionalized action film shot with documentary realism exploring the fictionalized intelligence that led to a very real war – it's not hard to see what drew director Paul Greengrass to Green Zone. Set during the first months of the Iraq war when the weapons of mass destruction used to justify the American-led invasion failed to materialize, the film allows Greengrass to deploy the breathless thrills of his Matt Damon-starring spy thrillers The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum in the kind of real-world setting favoured by his politically resonant docudramas Bloody Sunday and United 93. The result is a heart-jacking action film that manages to engage in a direct and intelligent way with the causes of the war and its at-any-price mission to depose Saddam Hussein.

That's a tough trick to pull off, but Greengrass – reuniting with Damon – does so with plenty of verve, plunging us into the chaos of the conflict in its earliest days and gradually pulling into focus a clear-headed narrative of what might have happened as a way of making us think about what did happen.

Our entry point is Damon's Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, a high ranking US combatant assigned to find and secure Saddam's chemical weapons cache using Pentagon-approved "raw intel". With the eyes of the world watching, Miller is finding it increasingly difficult to hide his frustration when his unit repeatedly comes up empty-handed as they scour the empty silos and bunkers flagged up in the intelligence reports.

Told by his superiors to keep his mouth shut, he finds his inquisitorial attitude brings him to the attention of CIA specialist Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a veteran of the region whose understanding of Iraq's ethnic, religious and political complexities are dismissed by unscrupulous Pentagon pencil-pusher Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) as the damaging "pre-conceived ideas" standing in the way of a new democracy being forged in America's image.

That kind of hubris is at the heart of Green Zone. Loosely inspired by Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran's non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, the film infuses fiction with fact, creating a gripping conspiracy thriller that has the ring of truth about it. The disconnect that existed between the US bureau officials living like kings in the heavily fortified luxury of Saddam's palace (the titular Green Zone) and the lawless realities on the streets of Baghdad and beyond, is briefly but potently highlighted when Miller is summoned to the palace only to find bikini-clad staffers lounging around a pool while other administrators chow down on Domino's pizza and beer. Greengrass, a master of telescoping intricate detail into seconds of screen time, lets these bizarre images speak for themselves, implying rather than stating outright the dangerous, damaging practice of creating strategy and policy in a vacuum.

Yet he's also canny enough to use such scenes to foreground the less obvious disconnect that exists between frontline soldiers like Miller and the Iraqis they genuinely believe they're there to help. When Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), a friendly, crippled veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, begins supplying Miller with genuine intel that might help him uncover the truth about WMD, the reality of what Miller comes to understand as "tough choices" facing the US mission in Iraq turns out to have very different implications for those who've spent their lives there. These grey areas certainly help give the relentlessly fast-paced Green Zone enough substance to justify its amped-up action, which Greengrass takes to new levels of vertiginous vérité.

Though his film-making approach might have been in danger of being devalued by all the inferior rip-offs that have sprung up in recent years, he really does kick things up a gear here, bathing the full-tilt night-time chase through Baghdad's back-alleys that climaxes the film in a fuzzy, night-vision green that genius cameraman Barry Ackroyd uses to complement his tight, claustrophobic framing. It immerses us in the moment in a way 3D can only dream about. As do the performances, which imbue the economically sketched characters with enough meat to make them more than mere ciphers. Damon is particularly good. Stripped of Bourne's preternatural ass-kicking talents, but retaining the weary disposition of a patriot realizing that his core beliefs aren't as morally sound as he once thought, he puts a credibly human face on modern warfare without passing judgment on the character.

Inevitably some will call Greengrass on the boo-hiss obviousness of Kinnear's Machiavellian defense intelligence agent, but a quick scan of real guys in the Bush administration who ran the war confirms he's not a figment of some Hollywood screenwriter's imagination and Kinnear makes him a believable bad guy. Even Amy Ryan, charged with the rather thankless task of playing an exposition- facilitating journalist, uses her limited screen time to present us with a compromised professional whose guilt at allowing herself to be co-opted by the administration for the sake of a story haunts her every waking moment.

It could be argued that hindsight has robbed the film, which has been three years in the making, of a little of its power. However, the flip-side is that recent history has loaded Green Zone with dramatic irony, ensuring that even the coda, which at first glance seems naive and optimistic, suddenly becomes a depressing acknowledgment that getting the story straight is no guarantee that truth will prevail.

GREEN ZONE © 2010 Universal Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2010 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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