From the trailers to the closing film credits, the Paul Greengrass new political/action film “The Green Zone” blurs the line between reality and fiction mainly with a lot of shaky handheld camera work.
From the US versions of the trailer for “The Green Zone” you expect to see a sort of “Jason Bourne- goes- to-Iraq” action thriller. After all, as the promos say, it is from Paul Greengrass, the director of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatitum” and it is starring Matt Damon, the man who is probably more synonymous with the character Bourne than even Robert Ludlum, the author of the Bourne series.
The truth of the matter is - the movie plays less as an action thriller with political overtones but more of a HBO docudrama.
“The Green Zone” is a fictionalized account of the critically acclaimed non-fiction novel “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” by former Washington Post journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran which chronicles the lives of civilian leadership of the American reconstruction project in Iraq days following the invasion. These civilians lived in the Green Zone, an area behind the secured walled-off enclaves of what used to be Saddam’s palaces, thus the name of the film.
“Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly, yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.” President George Walker Bush, March 19, 2003
The above President Bush quote is the heart of the film’s plot with Matt Damon playing Chief Army Warrant Officer Roy Miller, a duty bound soldier in charge of a team tasked with hunting weapons of mass destruction. Miller’s problem though, is the so-called intelligence on where these WMD’s are, is faulty. Every site he and his team risk their lives to search and secure is not what they have been told it should be.
Miller complains to his superiors but his frustrations fall on deaf ears. The only person listening to him is Martin Brown (Harry Potter’s Breeden Gleeson), a CIA official whose agenda is preventing civil war from breaking out among the now government-less Iraqi citizens. In his eyes, striking a deal with General Al Rawi, (a fictionalized version of the notorious Jack of Spades from Saddam’s régime) is both Iraq’s and America’s best hope for a peaceful transition of power.
But Pentagon official, Clark Poundstone (Little Miss Sunshine’s Greg Kinear) is dead set in installing a formally banished Iraqi politician as the figurehead of the US sanctioned democratic government. If Miller keeps digging into the truth about the supposed existence of these weapons of mass destruction he just may uncover a conspiracy that threatens the credibility of the US government. After all, the invasion, occupation and resulting deaths of both American and Iraqi soldiers and citizens were only deemed necessary because of the alleged imminent threat Saddam and his WMDs posed to the world.
Amy Ryan (The Office) plays the Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne,who unwittingly serves as a pawn for “the administration” generating public support for the war by reporting the dis-information Poundstone feeds her in the form of leaked top-secret documents and briefs from secret meetings with a mysterious source code-named Magellen.
A lengthy (albeit fictionalized) rehashing of fairly recent history is part of problem with this movie. We know the story too well already. Despite Karl Rove’s recent memoir, we know we were lied to by an administration intent on going to war for whatever reasons. The role of Clark Poundstone is an assemblage of real life players in Bush’s administration like Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney who had no idea that civil war and insurgency would complicate and prevent a quick and easy end to a war that is still being fought today. Real suspense only occurs late in the film when Miller races against a bad- ass Army Special Forces soldier Briggs (“Black Hawk Down’s” Jason Isaacs) to find The Jack of Clubs who will either expose the truth (to Washington’s dismay) or be as bad of a villain as Saddam Hussein was.
Greengrass and Damon worked well together in the Bourne films and bring some of that energy to this movie. Greengrass’s signature shaky hand-held camera work helps capture a grittiness of the Iraqi dessert, even scenes comprised of mostly dialogue. But the lack of focus and stability tends to be a bit much during the films few action sequences. But yes, during those scenes, Greengrass allows Damon to unleash a few flashes of that kick-ass that Bourne is known for!
There will be people who enjoy this movie for the political drama it is. I could actually see a film franchise develop out of the Miller character, like the Jack Ryan character of the Tom Clancy novels. But producers have to have enough faith in the intelligence of their audiences and be upfront with the marketing and packaging of their product. “The Green Zone” is hurt by the same problem that defines the plot; deception. Like the faulty intelligence given to Miller, the trailers and promos insinuate one thing to get audiences in the theater only to find out that it’s a different story.
Thankfully, though, it doesn’t take seven years to get out.