Paul Greengrass’s Green Zone would have best been left to videogame developers. Adapt the action that makes up nearly 80% of the film into a first person shooter and add a few cut scenes to keep hammering home the film’s irrelevant political point and you’ve got a multi-million dollar game franchise. But no, instead we get a monotonous and unnecessary movie. Bad luck I guess.
Green Zone takes place in Baghdad in 2003 with Matt Damon starring as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller who, along with his team, has been assigned the duty of finding weapons of mass destruction believed to be stockpiled throughout the Iraqi desert. Unfortunately, all of their missions are coming up empty and with a couple of recent casualties on fruitless missions Miller wants to know why they’re coming up empty and where the bad intel is coming from. When he begins challenging the system he finds most doors slamming shut, but the CIA is willing to listen, sending him on a mission into the desert to find the truth.
Unfortunately for Miller, whatever truth he comes up with will be irrelevant as he’s fighting against a power not only unwilling to listen, but the actual cause of all the troubles at hand. While masquerading as a thriller, Green Zone is actually more interested in making sure audiences are aware the war in Iraq was started under false pretenses (the fact there were no weapons of mass destruction), a point we’ve all been aware of for some time now, which means Green Zone isn’t telling audiences anything they didn’t already know. What this leaves us with is a shell of a movie that asks a few questions, but seems either unwilling or unsure of how to answer them.
What should a country do if the reason they went to war turns out to be a lie or simply proven untrue? Do you pull out? Stay in? Act like it didn’t happen? Throughout Green Zone questions such as these arise, but they are brushed under the rug as the film slows down just enough to make sure you’re paying attention — THERE ARE NO WMDS! — before tirelessly moving on to the next action sequence.
In an effort to pull all of this off, the story is told much like an episode of “24” and has Damon’s character going from here to there finding everything we expect him to find only to learn his efforts are fruitless. The thrill of it all is lost in redundancy. While there is an expert level of technical proficiency in the action sequences, they all mirror one another to the point one bleeds into the next and it all feels like territory we’ve tread only minutes earlier.
This film will draw instant comparisons to the Bourne series of films, if not because Greengrass directed Damon in the final two films in the franchise, then because that’s how Universal is selling it. In all honesty, this is a Bourne film only the names and occupations have been changed. The dramatic difference between the Bourne films and this one being screenwriter Brian Helgeland doesn’t seem to have been able to find much of a story in his adaptation of Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone,” which served as the film’s source material. It tries to begin exploring the consequences of dissolving the Iraqi army, but by the time it comes to that this one has already gone too far downhill. Once they went to the stock footage of George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln I was pretty much fed up.
The only way Green Zone could have been interesting is if it had been released back in 2001 or 2002, and it’s theories had been explored as a “what if?” scenario before the war in Iraq had ever started. Instead, it’s subject matter serving as a coherent story is an afterthought and the fictional telling of the events make it even more irrelevant. Had this been a movie offering answers, or had it named actual names as opposed to making everything up, there may have been something to talk about. If Green Zone does anything it offers up the message we should learn from our mistakes, but did we really need Paul Greengrass to waste two hours of our life to tell us that?