Discovering covert and faulty intelligence causes a U.S. Army officer to go rogue as he hunts for Weapons of Mass Destruction in an unstable region.
Year 1, Day 353
BEFORE: Matt Damon carries over into another collaboration with Paul Greengrass (last directed United 93) for today’s Green Zone. I’ve long been a fan of Greengrass’ work and his ability to produce and maintain high energy levels throughout his films. Green Zone also has some of the political intrigue and deception from the Bourne films so there’s a lot of potential here. But it could also just feel repetitive, seeing yet another shaky-cam film.
AFTER: With the semi-recent news of Edward Snowden leaking information about PRISM, Green Zone seems to have been timed perfectly. This film is also about whistle-blowing and trying to get to the heart of what really was going on the the WMDs in Iraq back when we invaded in 2003. Something I find interesting is that there are no titles claiming this film is based on a true story or true events. It is based on a non-fiction book titled Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran but the film doesn’t claim to be realistic. Except that there’s very little about this film that feels fictional and that’s why Greengrass has another hit on his hands.
Unsurprising is how big a role the cinematography plays in this film. As with Greengrass’ other films (second and third Bourne films, United 93) most (all?) of the camerawork is handheld. Any action shot, or even fairly stable shots, have a noticeable movement to them ranging from minor reframings to violent shaking. The intention is to give the film a documentary-style look; make the viewer feel as if they are right there in the action. Occasionally this backfires and just makes the viewer annoyed and unable to decipher what’s going on. However, in Green Zone the technique is used to great effect. Even having seen many war films before and being acclimatized to all the goings-on and lingo, there was something special about this film. It wasn’t just another action film or war film; it proved it deserved to be set above the rest and the acting is another element as to why. While Matt Damon, who plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, steals the film, many of the other supporting cast are convincing in their roles as well. Damon has come along way from playing PFC Ryan (in Saving Private Ryan of course) back in 1998 and now commands the screen as an extremely convincing soldier. I have no doubt that if placed in a real combat situation, Damon could command his troops and accomplish the task at hand. Back to the supporting cast, Greg Kinnear plays Pentagon official Clark Poundstone ruthlessly and Jason Isaacs plays Major Briggs with the domineering qualities I would expect from someone who blindly follows orders. (I was disappointed in Brendan Gleeson’s performance as CIA bureau chief Martin Brown; he wasn’t that convincing).
For all this believability rolled into a fictional film (that’s a good thing if it wasn’t clear), there were some aspects that could have been handled better. Mainly, in an attempt to focus on very few characters and stories, some of the outlying ones - which are still important to the main story - become confusing. A prime example is the leader the U.S. wants to place at the head of the Iraqi government. This is an idea introduced very early on in the film and is one of the driving forces for why Martin Brown (Gleeson) wants to find the truth behind the WMDs. The Pentagon’s choice is a man who has been in exile for over 30 years and whom many Iraqis don’t even know, let alone would want leading their country. Both this example specifically and the larger idea of what’s going on with the leadership in Iraq is one that takes the back seat but is still highly important because it’s what allows the rest of the film to function. But it’s not mentioned enough for you to really familiarize yourself with. At the end of the film, when this exile-guy came on the screen again, I spent a solid couple of minutes trying to figure out what was going on. Eventually it clicked and I realized that this was the man the U.S. chose and would be their puppet in Iraq, but by not having a presence throughout the film, it was much more confusing than it had to be.
Green Zone may not be what you expect going in. This is much more political and drama-based than action-based. Yes, there’s still plenty of action, guns, and explosions, and in fairly large doses. But that’s not the real driving force of the film nor is it what is most entertaining. What is most entertaining is how Greengrass can make everything seemingly non-fiction and tell a story that never loses your interest. It’s not his best, but it’s incredibly well done and well worth watching.
RATING: 4 out of 5