Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Paul Greengrass, director; Brian Helgeland, script based on Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Starring: Matt Damon (Chief Warrant officer Roy Miller), Greg Kinnear (Clark Poundstone, Pentagon Intelligence), Brendan Gleeson (Martin Brown, CIA), Amy Ryan (Lawrie Dayne), Khalid Abdalla (Freddie)
Bourne goes to Baghdad. Or so it seems in Green Zone, a new American thriller set in Iraq during the opening days of the American occupation after their “shock and awe” campaign overthrew Saddam Hussein. Green Zone reunites Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, the director and star of the last two of the Bourne blockbusters, and despite a healthy critique of Bush era politics, their film is less accomplished than The Hurt Locker while covering the same terrain.
In fact, there’s a sense of déjà vu hanging over Green Zone. The main plot centres on whether the Bush administration knew that Hussein had no Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) before starting the War in Iraq. Raise your hands if you remember that the reason for the Iraq invasion was the issue of WMDs. OK, most Canadians—and certainly the vast majority of Classical 96 listeners—will recall that was George W’s ostensible motivation for bringing the troops into Baghdad. But for half of Green Zone’s audience—kids between 14 and 24—the whole tale of WMDs will have no resonance at all. They’ll just go to the film for kicks and that’s what Greengrass gives them—both barrels.
Matt Damon’s Chief Miller races through Green Zone with his game face on: he’s a man with a mission. In this case, he wants to know why there aren’t any WMDs; did somebody lie to him and his buddies? On Damon’s side is the CIA’s Marty Brown, personified by a tired looking Brendan Gleeson, minus his Irish brogue. The film is so relentlessly paced that Gleeson and Damon have to run from room to room while shouting out plot points to each other.
While the CIA is willing to expose the WMD ruse and prop up Iraq with ex-Hussein supporters, the Pentagon Intelligence unit headed by Greg Kinnear’s Clark Poundstone begs to differ. Kinnear, looking eerily like a slicker version of W mixed with a bit of Dana Carvey on downers, wants to suppress the news about the lack of WMDs and get rid of all Hussein acolytes; chaos be damned. Poundstone is so smarmy, you just want to slap him—surely an inappropriate response to the film’s perceived villain. (He tells Damon what everyone will think: “no one cares about the WMDs now that we’re here.”)
Green Zone adds a bit of complexity through the introduction of a good Iraqi named Freddie, who speaks English and helps Damon because he, too, is idealistic. The two have a confrontation near the end of the film that is actually interesting: should Iraqis support one of Hussein’s henchmen because he can stop the spread of anarchy in the country or should he be destroyed for aiding the dictator? That’s a complex question and the film answers it with a gun, some bullets and a loaded endorsement of personal loyalty over politics.
Looking for a lively thriller? Check out Green Zone. If you want to find out more about America’s presence in Iraq, there’s always The Hurt Locker, now at the DVD store along with a ton of great docs, including my favourite No End in Sight.