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GREEN ZONE (director: Paul Greengrass; screenwriters: Brian Helgeland/inspired by the book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran; cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd; editor: Christopher Rouse; music: John Powell; cast: Matt Damon (Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller), Greg Kinnear (Clark Poundstone), Brendan Gleeson (Martin Brown), Amy Ryan (Lawrie Dayne), Khalid Abdalla (Freddy), Igal Naor (Al Rawi), Jason Isaacs (Lieutenant Briggs); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Paul Greengrass/Tim Bevan/Eric Fellner/Lloyd Levin; Universal; 2010)
It’s never too late to hear the truth about the Iraqi War.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s never too late to hear the truth about the Iraqi War, which this film disperses as a Hollywood-style lesson in truth mixing realpolitiks and Hollywood-style politics through its cinema vérité blend of docudrama and two-fisted action. A film that should be accessible to the masses (just a few nuances to handle) as it tells us about the Bush administration’s calculated big lie about weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the reason for going to war in Iraq. Unfortunately it can’t take all the truth it dishes out and takes the unnecessary false step in the climax of making its tool reporter (someone resembling Judith Miller, formerly of the NY Times, but here with a different name and newspaper) feel ashamed about not checking her sources about WMDs and passing off the administration’s lies it received from a highly protected source known only by the code name “Magellan,” which seems to be a naive response by the filmmaker in letting the press off the hook so gently and thereby allows for a fantasy scenario it mostly avoided.

It’s too bad the film couldn’t have been released during 2004 or 2008’s presidential election year, and then it would have risen beyond just entertainment and meant something more than it could mean now–except it establishes itself as a record at last on film why the war was insane and why as the grunt everyman hero states “The reasons we go to war always matter.” As it stands now, its message is old hat (all the casualties and cost of the war have contributed to the country’s moral and economic downturn) as the country has moved on with the Obama administration unable or unwilling to untangle itself from an unwinnable war in Afghanistan and with the press apologizing for its shoddy war coverage, as it now tries to redeem itself by moving on even though it has a long way to go before the public can believe in its integrity again with confidence.

This well-researched, well-executed and credible war drama is directed by Paul Greengrass (“United 93″/”The Bourne Supremacy”/”The Bourne Ultimatum”), who keeps his foot on the action pedal with montage after montage of messy ‘shock-and-awe’ choreographed action sequences that seem spontaneous–proving that if one is committed to being an artist and not just a bottom-line filmmaker, a talented director can bring intelligence even to an action pic meant to be a blockbuster.

The Green Zone (a reference to the safe zone in Baghdad for the Americans and its allies) is set in 2003, about a month after the invasion, and has gung-ho Chief Warrant Officer Miller (Matt Damon) and his team of Army inspectors (consisting of regular soldiers as actors) risking their lives in the volatile days of looting that followed the war’s end by checking out sites that intel told them Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction and on each occasion coming up empty. When Miller boldly questions the authorities at a briefing about their sources, he’s told to play ball or else. The arrogant opportunistic Bush appointed Pentagon intelligence officer Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) tells Miller that famous Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld line that “Democracy is messy.”

When the boyish Miller gets a tip from an idealistic Iraqi patriot named Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), used as his translator as well as an informant, he goes ‘off the reservation’ to act on it, doing the work journalists are supposed to do but in this war most don’t. Miller’s actions are only believable because Damon is such a good actor that he allows us to believe his character would act that way despite the risk and consequences. It leads to Miller being contacted by the good-guy seasoned Middle-East expert CIA operative, Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who is in conflict with the rigid administration about their cover-up and afraid their misinformed policies will lead to sectarian violence. Along the way on the futile search for weapons of mass destruction we view a torture chamber ala Abu Ghraib, a video of the smug Bush announcing on a navy ship Mission Accomplished, a duped Wall Street Journal reporter (Amy Ryan) feeding us the lies about WMD that the administration wants the public to hear, how those looking to stop an insurrection must choose to defy administration policy by deciding whether or not to deal with a ruthless and cunning Ba’athist general (Igal Naor), and the Iraqi everyman translator, the conscience of the film, telling the good-guy invaders “It’s not for you Americans to decide what happens here!”

The film was inspired by the book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post. The lively script by Brian Helgeland, lifted from the historical records, keeps things split down lines of good guys and bad guys–with no grey in between. Though the dilemma of how to deal with the cagey Ba’athist general might have some in the audience thinking more subtly about politics than they are used to, it still plays out as a fairly simplistic but smart message pic that is mostly entertaining.

It was shot in Morocco and Spain, which looks remarkably like Baghdad. The cinematographer is the skillful Barry Ackroyd, who also shot The Hurt Locker guerrilla-style.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”