Hindsight gives clarity to issues that were perhaps more difficult to understand at the time. In the case of Green Zone, it also kind of ruins thriller movie plots.
The film is loosely adapted from Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s excellent non-fiction account of the American occupation of the city, Imperial Life In The Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone. Greengrass has essentially taken the beginnings of his plot, and some brilliant background detail, but sadly, left behind the dark, witty humour.
Green Zone kicks off with Matt Damon’s earnest unit leader Roy Miller rushing into a bombed out Baghdad building full of looters, putting his men at risk to find evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). If you don’t already know what he’s not going to find, you really need to pick up a newspaper from time to time.
Miller starts to realise that his crew is being sent on pointless missions, and starts publicly asking questions of military leaders – ooh, I wonder if they’ll be supportive or tell him to shut up? – before he’s approached by a CIA guy looking to get Miller on his side.
Purely from the casting, it’s easy to tell which of Miller’s higher-ups is the good guy and which is the bad guy. The smoothly pretty Greg Kinnear plays Pentagon intelligence chief Clark Poundstone, while an overweight and rumpled looking Brendan Gleeson plays the CIA agent Martin Brown, channelling Phillip Seymour Hoffman as best he can.
Poundstone is part of a group of Americans trying to install their choice for Baghdad leader, while Brown believes it should be someone else, this leadership battle being one of the bits taken from Chandrasekaran’s book.
(For some reason, there’s also Amy Ryan running around as a rather hapless journalist. Her character doesn’t do much other than showcase war reporters as fools for not realising there were no WMD – not an unfair point, but she’s more of an aside here than anything else, giving Miller someone to shout for not checking her sources.)
Once Miller realises one of the men in question is key to proving the case against WMD, it sets off a chase between his team and the cartoonishly evil independent military contractors (think Blackwater) as every side tries to save or murder the man, regardless of what the Iraqis want. Although like every character in the film, the Iraqi characters get a lot of eloquent speeches to drone on and on about what it is they do want.
And that’s another major problem in Green Zone. There’s a lot of holier than thou speeches from characters who should maybe just shut up and get back to the rather big job at hand. Damon’s Miller is just so utterly perfect – the clever solider who intelligently questions authority – and his final act in the film so good, that he seems impossible. Kinnear and Gleeson are effectively playing caricatures of the slick PR man and the humble CIA agent, but that doesn’t stop them from delivering high-minded lectures pulled straight from newspaper opinion pages.
Essentially, Green Zone falls on its politics, with the double edge sword of didactic, preachy dialogue and suspense-killing hindsight.
But as an action film alone, it has potential for sheer entertainment, especially for fans of the Greengrass-Damon juggernaut that is the Bourne series. Damon is very fun to watch running around with a gun.
But like Bourne and United 93, Green Zone features Greengrass’ favourite, the shakily filmed handy-cam sequences. It’s used in every single battle scene, making them confusing, gut-wrenching, sick-inducing experiences.
Now, I’m sure real battle scenes are confusing, gut-wrenching and sick-inducing, but Greengrass doesn’t just use his trademark filming method for battle scenes. He also pulls it out to watch Damon’s Miller… walking. The camera bounces along behind him, as though the camera man is actually following his steps.
There’s another shot in a Humvee, driving down a bumpy Baghdad lane. Miller looks down at the map and coordinate document in his hands, and we again switch to handy-cam, leaving the pages a blurry, jarring mess. Reading in cars is, indeed, difficult, but who wants to watch a movie about it?
Because of all this, Green Zone‘s a bit of a mess, an okay film that could have been great. The action is hard to watch, the twists in the story are known to all, and the politics preachy, regardless of your leanings. But then, given the mess that is the American-lead war in Iraq and the occupation of Iraq, maybe it’s no surprise that a film made about it will follow that lead.
Green Zone arrives in cinemas March 10th.