Paul Greengrass’s highly fictionalized adaptation of Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s appraisal of occupied-Iraq (and her occupiers) is the latest, but far from the best or most insightful. Mediocre and painstakingly obvious would be more descriptive. It’s title and source material aside, “Green Zone” isn’t particularly interested in life in the Green Zone except as fodder for it’s overwhelming desire to point fingers about everything that went wrong with the Iraq War.
Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is the kind of guy you really want to be a soldier. Smart, dedicated and tough, willing to do what needs to be done to accomplish his mission. He’s definitely the kind of guy you want looking for weapons of mass destruction in a war zone. Unless of course you have vested interest in WMD’s never being found.
Greengrass’s “Green Zone” is about half political thriller and half action thriller and unfortunately it’s only successful at one of those halves. Doubly unfortunate, the half that does work isn’t the part he’s interested in.
After his third high value WMD target comes up empty, Miller starts to think the unthinkable for a country that built it’s case for war on those very weapons. That the intelligence isn’t just bad, but that the people giving the intelligence out may in fact know it’s bad if not out and out false. The only way to find out is to find the secretive ‘Magellan’ the Pentagon’s main source for WMD data.
After a local (Khalid Abdallas) cuing Miller into a local Ba’athist general in the area brings the CIA and Special Forces landing on his simple little war, Miller realizes there is more going on than he’s being told.
Just in case you don’t get what Greengrass and screenwriter Helgeland are hinting at, they’ve decided to spell it out, ad nauseum. That the U.S. lied its way into the Iraq War using WMD as a stalking horse, and then screwed up post-invasion by arrogantly refusing to learn anything about the country it had occupied.
There is certainly some truth to that, but there’s also a great deal of cynicism. And while no one ever lost money beating against the cynicism involved in the Iraq War, Greengrass seems intent on giving it the old college try. Incompetence and/or negligence aren’t enough you see. Something that has gone as badly wrong as Iraq must have been the product of purposeful misinformation and criminal ass-covering.
With no story in the real world along those lines appearing that seems actually plausible, Greengrass and company have done the next best thing and created the Hollywood fantasy of the discovery of that story. How much you’re going to like “Green Zone” is going to depend a great deal in how much you already subscribe to that opinion, because you’re going to spend quite a lot of time hearing about it. When the film does buckle down to act like a real thriller it does quite a good job of it, but you’re more than likely to have lost patience with it by that point.
Instead we get Miller, as the stand in for your average soldier most likely to be hurt by these kinds of manipulations, bouncing back and forth between the local CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson), a reporter more interested in stories than facts (Amy Ryan) and a Pentagon official (Greg Kinnear) roughly standing in for Paul Bremer, as he tries to figure out Magellan’s identity.
On the one hand it’s not particularly fair to judge the film by its politics rather than its qualities as a movie. On the other hand its politics are so inseparable from its own identity that’s probably impossible. Which wouldn’t be so bad if weren’t so hamhanded about the whole thing.
It’s not enough that the antagonists are wrong, they’ve got to be unremitting douchebags who really do deserve anything awful that happens to them. You know, just to make sure you know just how wrong they are. It’s impossible to shake the feeling that “Green Zone” has bought in too heavily into it’s own bullsh*t. If you don’t happen to agree with the filmmakers about the war, they’re going to make you believe. If you agree already, you’re likely to feel insulted by Greengrass offering up something that’s every bit the whitewash WMD’s were and treating it like real truth.
Eventually Miller gets a line on the mysterious Magellan and sets out to bring him in, to set things straight once and for all, initiating a fantastic chase replete with gun battles, car chases and exploding helicopters. Not to mention Greengrass’s trademark shaky handicam work. It’s sad to see a talented director reach the end of his bag of tricks, but I think we’re seeing it here.
What’s really sad is I can’t help but feel that the filmmakers think they’ve probably delivered some sort ambiguous, introspective accusation against what happened in Iraq. It’s not.