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)

11 Responses to “Review: Green Zone (2010) ** 1/2”

  1. I have to agree with your review. The thriller aspects themselves don’t work because the supposition behind them is awfully weak and unconvincing. The action aspects don’t work because there’s no real investment in the characters or the action itself. And as a political commentary, the film expends so little effort on the reality of the situation that the few brief scenes of critical exposition feel tacked on, as if they got a week out from production and suddenly realized all they kept from the source was the setting.

    I can’t recall another Hollywood “adaptation” that has so little to do with the source material or feigns such weak respect for it. I’m sure there are other examples, but I don’t even understand why they bothered to keep the title “Green Zone” since the film is so uninterested in the setting its named after.

    I hope Greengrass and Damon both move on to more interesting projects in the future. Neither of them seemed very interested in this one.

  2. It’s a glorious pan of a film I’m expecting very little from. I may be able to negotiate it later today, but I have a review to pen and a diary to prepare. Your non-recommendation certainly is no motivation, that’s for sure! Ha!

    Actually my favorite sentence in this typically astute piece is your very first one:

    “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.”

    Too bad Greengrass has gone this route, as his UNITED 93 won wide critical acclaim because it steered clear of the usual conventions.

  3. I half-agree with you on this one. I think “Green Zone”, taken as a straight-up action-thriller, actually works pretty well, especially in those early scenes as Damon and his crew raid the supposed WMD sites only to come up empty.

    But as the film goes on, it becomes increasingly standardized in its conventions and explicit in its politics. I constantly felt like the film was talking down to me, contrary to “The Hurt Locker,” which coaxes and gently stirs the audience while keeping the agenda firmly rooted in the subtext. Not helping matters is the fictional way in which “Green Zone” chooses to condemn Washington’s decision to go to war.

  4. I was going to write something about this movie, but honestly the quality of a review like this spares me the indignity of having to think of anything to say about it, other than the fact that this was the very first time I actually considered getting up and leaving the theater before the movie was done.

  5. I half expected widespread disagreement on this one until I looked at the Tomato rating.

    I went into it hoping for some decent action thrills, and as Chase says it starts out promisingly, but the more conventional it gets, the more offensive the rest of it becomes.

    It’s not terrible as far as straight up action goes, though the style of it simply isn’t for me.

    I read one review that commented on how realistic the action was. Am I the only one who thought it seemed phony and staged?

  6. Craig – well once again, the opening scene in which Damon and his crew have to secure the sniper position felt very authentic to me. The nighttime Al Rawi chase sequence? Ludicrous. Not to mention that it seemed to go on for ever.

    But I don’t hate “Green Zone,” I just think it could have been a whole lot better. What it does is to further highlight everything that “The Hurt Locker” did so well. The latter is intimate and politically unobtrusive, while the former ramps up the noise and the commentary like a buzzsaw.

  7. I thought the action seemed phony myself, especially the climax of the film. I don’t hate the film, but I can’t muster much enthusiasm for it either. The whole thing just seemed misguided and pointless. I am sorry I wasted my time and money on it though.

  8. “What it does is to further highlight everything that “The Hurt Locker” did so well” very very true.

    I didn’t hate GZ either, though its pointlessness really bothered me after the fact and tainted this review.

  9. This is an anti-American film that tries to attract people with action. I don’t mind political films when they are upfront about it. If you hate America go somewhere else quit trying to recruit.

  10. Yes, the bad guys in Green Zone are Americans, but they’re not necessarily made out to represent “America” itself so calling the film anti-American is a little lazy. It’s hot air spewed by the Fox crowd to get their followers pissed off.

    Freedom to question the people in power is one of the hallmarks of our system. Unfortunately, Green Zone does a ham handed job of it. It wants to be both an entertainment and a message and it fails at both.

    However, this idea that we’re meant to cheer when American bad guys get killed and that that represents cheering against America is absurd.

  11. Green Zone isn’t anti-American, it’s anti-lying bureaucrats with thinly-veiled personal agendas dragging us into a war under false pretenses and manufactured evidence.

    If anything, Green Zone is anti-douchebags. I just wish it was a better film.

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