Green Zone a military action drama that questions Iraq war

Jason Isaacs (left) and Matt Damon in “Green Zone.”

by Bill Wine

Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.

Like most contemporary military thrillers, “Green Zone” (2010) is an escapist entertainment that would also like to be a weapon of mass instruction.

It succeeds to the extent that we buy the reality of what we're watching while we're watching it.  Whether or not it will change viewers' political points of view after the fact remains to be seen.

It's a military thriller about the war in Iraq and the search for the weapons of mass destruction that have triggered the U.S. invasion.  Matt Damon stars as the U.S. Army's Roy Miller, a Chief Warrant Officer who discovers faulty covert evidence in the hunt for WMD in unstable Iraq.

If we're so sure that Saddam Hussein has hidden WMD in various sites in Iraq, figures Miller, then where are they? Dedicated to uncovering the truth, Miller wants to know why none of the teams of inspectors can seem to find what they're risking their lives to look for. 

When Miller gets conflicting intelligence about exact sites, he begins to suspect a cover-up.  So he goes to Baghdad and, sensing the huge disconnect, turns rogue.

Brendan Gleeson plays a CIA station chief who is also skeptical of the intelligence, Greg Kinnear a Defense Intelligence agent assuring the naysayers of the wisdom of the U.S. approach, and Amy Ryan a foreign correspondent with the Wall Street Journal who has worked some of this intelligence into her influential articles about the invasion.

Paul Greengrass also directed Damon in two strong sequels, “The Bourne Supremacy” and  “The Bourne Ultimatum.”  The sense of urgency characteristic of Greengrass films is again on display: this movie hurtles down the tracks like an express train.  But this time the amped-up action thrust is complemented by a piercing political edge, as the film explores the willingness of the Bush administration to act on certain "truths" as part of its orchestrated sale of the military campaign and invasion of Iraq to the American public.

Greengrass knows how to move things along briskly while making the early stages of the American occupation of Iraq appear shock-and-awe-thentic, with the chaos of warfare registering with vivid grittiness.

The title of the screenplay by Brian Helgeland -- a fictionalized adaptation of the 2006 nonfiction book by former Washington Post Baghdad chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" -- refers to a safety area where American decision makers would appear to be cut off from the truths regarding Iraq.

As for Damon, he brings total Bourne-again credibility to his action-oriented lead role and helps to underline the few critical conversation scenes that crop up amidst all the battle footage.  “Green Zone” is kinetic to a fault, but it's the key verbal interaction, not the gunfire exchanges, that are the true dramatic highlights.

This is a riveting, breathlessly paced, politicized military action drama.  With Greengrass at the helm, Damon in the trenches, and the invasion of Iraq on the docket, “Green Zone” plays like Bourne 4: Why the War?  

Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.



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