Amy Ryan: Jeez, Matt. With this underwritten part, I feel as out of place
in Green Zone as you look standing poolside in full combat gear.
Matt Damon: Seriously. You’ve got as much connection to
this movie as Judith Miller had to the truth about WMD.
I’m not sure which is more offensive: that Paul Greengrass has turned the Iraq WMD clusterfuck into a trite Hollywood conspiracy thriller or that he’s emasculated Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City until it’s little more than window dressing for the same. Whatever your politics or your feelings about the legitimacy of the war, reasonable questions remain about the selling of the invasion, its prosecution and its aftermath. Greengrass glides over all these complexities in favor of a cheap bit of fiction that manages only a few halfhearted jabs and lands them about four years too late.
It’s 2003 and Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller is in Iraq searching for Saddam’s fabled (and, as it would turn out, fabulous) weapons of mass destruction while the post-invasion occupation goes to hell around him. Facing pressure from the top to turn up evidence and continually finding a situation on the ground that bears no relationship to the intelligence he’s been given, Miller begins to suspect a conspiracy leading all the way back to the very justification for war itself.
Matt Damon plays Miller as an earnest and honest regular Joe who repeats several times that he’s just there to save lives. Damon is always best when he’s got an edge to him. Whether it’s creepy as in The Talented Mr. Ripley, comic as in Ocean’s 11 or a combination of the two as in The Informant!, Damon excels at ordinary seeming characters with something going on under the surface. Miller is just a good guy and not a very interesting one.
Opposing Damon is Greg Kinnear who arrives with his increasingly familiar stock bad guy character; in this case a Pentagon official who might be (ya think?) the lynchpin to the whole thing. Kinnear was refreshing the first few times he cranked up the menace factor, but by now the thrill has gone. Meanwhile, Amy Ryan is completely wasted as a reporter whose only purpose is to stand in for the NY Times’ Judith Miller so Damon can lecture her late in the film.
Brendan Gleeson adds a little more interest as an old school CIA guy – seemingly the only honest one in Iraq. He’s got that rumpled, unhealthy look of someone whose lived a life out of a suitcase. He’s more traveling salesman than James Bond type and he feels believable. He’s a rough edge in a film that sorely needs them.
Though it borders on the exploitative, Greengrass’ failed bid to turn Iraq into a simplistic, too-little-too-late moral lesson might’ve been forgivable had it simply worked as an exciting action movie. It does not. The trademark Greengrass jittery documentary style that once seemed fresh and exciting has now calcified into cliché. Instead of heightening the tension and lending an air of authenticity to the battle sequences, it’s an irritant. Used judiciously, it can still be very powerful as it was in The Hurt Locker (also photographed by Barry Ackroyd), but in The Green Zone it’s a crutch and not a very interesting or convincing one. Worse, many of the fight sequences have a squeaky-clean, staged feeling. Meant to be visceral and pulse pounding, they’re about as convincing as the tram ride through the Universal Studios back lot.
If Green Zone is a bust politically and if it comes up short as an action entertainment, what are we left with? A two-and-a-half star movie. Audiences have reason to expect big things from the same people who collaborated on the last two Bourne movies, but like our hero Roy Miller as he busts into an industrial complex looking for WMD early in the film, we’re disappointed to find nothing more than a toilet factory.
Green Zone. USA 2010. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Screenplay by Brian Helgeland from the book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. Music score composed by John Powell. Edited by Christopher Rouse. Starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan and Khalid Abdalla. 1 hour 55 minutes. MPAA rated R for violence and language. 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Filed under: Review
Tags: Amy Ryan, Barry Ackroyd, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Helgeland, Christopher Rouse, Green Zone, Greg Kinnear, John Powell, Khalid Abdalla, Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass, Rajiv Chandrasekaran