By JP Chapman | March 12, 2010
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Brian Helgeland (screenplay); Rajiv Chandrasekaran (book: Imperial Life in the Emerald City)
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla, Jason Isaacs
Set in Iraq of 2003, Green Zone follows the story of Roy Miller (Matt Damon), a warrant officer in the US army commissioned to search for the weapons of mass destruction that were the justification for the just-approved invasion of Iraq. Intertwining the storylines of Miller’s squad and the remnants of the Iraqi military/government (now forced into hiding), the audience is allowed to trace the independent choices of both sides as the future of Iraq is determined. More than anything, the film centers around the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and the US search for the truth about them. Growing increasingly frustrated with missions that are simultaneously risking the lives of his men, as well as are turning up no WMDs, Miller’s agitation quickly begins to boil over into the beginnings of rebellion. Upon confronting his commanding officers about the integrity of their intelligence information, he is politely ordered to “shut up”, but catches the eye of CIA agent Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) via his out-spokedness. Encouraging Miller that there is something to his suspicions about the source of the military’s intelligence, he also importantly lets him know that he has a like minded friend.
The trail down the rabbit hole continues for Miller as his men deviate from their next fruitless mission to raid a safe-house that a young Iraqi (Khalid Abdalla) informs them of. A small book containing additional safe-houses and locations for the last ranking Iraqi general is found by Miller, but US Special Forces directed by Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) swoop in to take possession of Miller’s prisoners, and what they hope will be the book. Suspicions increasing, Miller manages to keep the book from them, and brings it, along with the young Iraqi that has helped them, to the US Army’s Green Zone in Iraq- the center of the “International Zone” (and Saddam’s former palace), where the American government has set up shop. Miller quickly learns that there is more than one side to the story of what has led to the US actions in Iraq, and begins a search, with Martin Brown, to discover the truth about WMDs, as well as the source of the US intelligence surrounding them.
While I have not read Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book (Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone) that this film is based on, I have heard that it manages to take a much more objective approach to the invasion of Iraq than the movie. Focusing on the actions of the Coalition Provisional Authority within the Green Zone following the invasion of Iraq, Chandrasekaran’s book makes a firm effort to stand as a work of journalism that doesn’t take sides. While important in works of non-fiction, I’m definitely pleased that director Paul Greengrass opted for a different approach in his film adaptation. This is Greengrass and writer Brian Helgeland’s action-packed political statement about the Iraqi war and the wrong reasons they believe we got into it for. In the process of the film, Greengrass manages to make you root for and hate the US government all at the same time, simultaneously delivering an awesomely fun ride.
Coming off the heels of working with Damon in both The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy, Greengrass is on a roll. Not only has he learned how to deliver an action packed film, he’s also figured out how to make his audience doubt the logical course of events that would normally unfold-making for a much more riveting experience. I went into this film concerned that Greengrass would fall back onto the successful conventions and choreographed fights that he leaned on in the Bourne films, but am pleased to report that this was a fiercely independent work on its own. In the course of the film, Matt Damon proves yet again that he is an acting force to be reckoned with. Jumping into the role of an ethically conflicted soldier, he embodies both the self-assured hero we’ve seen him as in previous action films, but also the meek, fearful character he’s played in earlier films like Good Will Hunting. Even more impressive in many ways than his acting range, I have no idea how Damon was able to complete filming of Green Zone, only to jump immediately over to The Informant (yes, Green Zone was filmed first). Talk about being dedicated to your craft—if you’ve seen The Informant, then you know that it would’ve been no easy task to transition between these roles. With these factors in mind, Damon has quickly become one of the most consistent performers at the box office for me, with virtually every one of his films containing at least something that I like.
While I was impressed with the work of Paul Greengrass as director, I must also speak to the cinematography of Barry Ackroyd. Filmed primarily in Spain and Morocco, Ackroyd manages to dirty up his shots in a way that absolutely evokes what I would picture as a war torn middle east. Switching to what appears to be handheld, gritty camera shots in close quarters fight scenes, as well as expansive high definition shots; Ackroyd manages to guide the story via the very angles and resolutions of his cameras. It’s rare to be able to count on cinematography for both emotional content as well as storyboard guidance, and I think Ackroyd should be commended for this accomplishment.
While I wouldn’t count this as Paul Greengrass’s or Matt Damon’s best film to date, Green Zone is a great film—with a great supporting cast, and an expertly delivered storyline. Some viewers may be turned off from the political content of the film, but I believe that the overwhelming majority will be pleased with both the content, as well as the overarching story. Not a perfect movie, but definitely one worth watching.