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Green Zone A Preachy Failure From Paul Greengrass

Green Zone
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Written by Brian Helgeland based on the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Universal, 2010

Green Zone is a curiously preachy movie from Paul Greengrass, who has definitely not shied away from political thrillers and controversy before, with adaptations of real-life incidents Bloody Sunday and United 93, along with the action-packed, with political undertones, latter Bourne films.  The thing about those four movies, though, is that there didn’t appear to be a side being taken one way or another.  Occasional, seemingly incidental potshots were taken, but they were fair and without malice.

Green Zone, on the other hand, makes you feel like everyone is still trying to get George W. Bush out of office.  It’s revelations have been covered so many times in the media, documentaries, and other Iraq War movies, that the film’s righteous anger over the lack of WMDs in Iraq seems way too late, and I wonder if even there’s a dead horse left to beat after all this.  We’ve dug halfway to China criticizing the Bush administration.

Miller (Matt Damon) is a soldier looking for WMDs, and he’s been given bad intel twice before, and he’s seeing men die over it, and in his third courageous foray into a known WMD site, and once again he comes up short.  Now, he’s mad, and willing to disobey orders to find the truth.  His main obstacle is government guy Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) whose job seems to be trying to make everything look good, and Miller’s claims that the intel is bad is making him look bad.  Sympathetic to Miller’s claims is opposing government guy Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who wants evidence that WMDs don’t exist so he can put the lid on this questionable war once and for all.  Then there’s the media, represented by Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), who has been fed “credible” evidence from a source known as “Magellan” that appears to be wrong.

So Miller goes off-script and recruits some of his own guys to hunt down an Iraqi general named Al Rawi (Igal Naor), who may help the Americans if only they ask for it, which is another criticism that has been lobbied many a time: Americans should have recruited old Republican Guard soldiers who were not loyal to Saddam Hussein.  Al Rawi has information that can clear this whole thing up, but the operations in Iraq and the mistrust has him on the run.

Greengrass’ shaky-cam immediacy, which worked well with closed-space in United 93, and in the Bourne films when he only had to focus mainly on two characters, tops, becomes an instant bother in Green Zone because so much is going on onscreen at once.  Now, the element that Greengrass brings to the table becomes a liability, and I know there are many out there who didn’t even like it in the Bourne films, so imagine trying to follow a war zone.

I’ve already mentioned how the movie’s revelations, what? Really? No WMDs?  Who would have thought! grind the movie into preachy dust, and it doesn’t help that the movie has a tacked on confrontation between Miller and Poundstone to beat more sense into us.  It’s like Greengrass and Damon needed something cathartic, a pounding of the fists against the wall, the equivalent of throwing a vase across the room, to get over the reasons we went to war, or as one final, embittered plea to the world to say, “Hey, we were duped.  We’re sorry.  Don’t blame us.”  It doesn’t work as entertainment, unfortunately.

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