Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Khalid Abdalla, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson
Rated: R for violence and language
“Green Zone” is a good movie from a great collection of filmmakers. If you’ve been paying attention, its contention that the intel about WMDs in Iraq was faulty at best isn’t exactly news, and the film is at times more than a little predictable, but overall it’s entertaining and enjoyable.
Matt Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who heads a group of men in charge of tracking down weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. It’s four weeks after the invasion, and the Iraqis are just starting to complain about things like the lack of water. Miller is becoming exasperated: he keeps being sent to sites reported to be holding WMDs and winding up empty-handed. He and his men are risking their lives on wild goose chase after wild goose chase. When he brings this up in a meeting and suggests that perhaps the information they’re being given isn’t accurate, he is shut down — but after the meeting, a CIA man, Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) approaches him. He’s noticed the same thing, and wants to find out what’s going on.
Damon makes Miller a sympathetic hero, even though at times he’s less than compassionate toward the Iraqis. Miller is an idealist and a very dedicated, principled man, and Damon brings that across in a way that makes us believe in Miller rather than dismiss him as foolish or hopelessly naive. Damon earned his place as an action movie hero in the Bourne movies, and he’s in top form here. It’s nice to see him as someone other than the superhuman Bourne, though. Miller is just a good, old-fashioned American military man: well-trained and excellent at his job.
As Miller and others, including Brown and a determined Wall Street Journal reporter (Amy Ryan) start digging into the source of the faulty WMD intel, things start to get ugly. People like Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), one of the higher-ups in the American bureaucracy in Iraq, don’t want the truth to be known. Kinnear is always a delight in roles like this — slimy, self-confident, and more than a little self-deluded.
Meanwhile, of course, there’s lots of other things going on. General Al Rawi (Igal Naor) and the men under his command from the old Iraqi army are in hiding, awaiting overtures from the Americans and making plans to fight if the Americans don’t play nice. Miller winds up with Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), an Iraqi civilian, as his impromptu translator after the man comes to Miller with information about some strange goings-on. He cares about his country, but doesn’t necessarily see things the way the Americans do.
It’s no surprise that “Green Zone” is a well-crafted film: director Paul Greengrass helmed the last two Bourne films, and screenwriter Brian Helgeland was the pen behind “L.A. Confidential,” “Mystic River,” and other tightly-scripted thrillers. The one flaw here is the camerawork: too much of it is hand-held, chaotic, and potentially nausea-inducing. If you’re a fan of steadicam work and like to be able to appreciate the choreography and see the big picture in fights, you are out of luck. This is the modern trend of in-the-action cinematography at its worst.
If you can handle that, “Green Zone” is well worth watching. The political intrigue is tightly written (and filmed conventionally) and compelling, and the performances are very good. This isn’t just another action flick, it’s a sort of half-breed action-thriller. Fortunately, the mix works.