Green Zone Review

(3.5 STARS)

“Green Zone” is a rare hybrid of political thriller and full on actioner. The film, which is very loosely based on the nonfiction book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” mixes facts with fiction to tell a compelling story of the lies and misinformation surrounding the supposed WMDs in Iraq. Director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon force the obvious comparisons to the Jason Bourne trilogy. And while such comparisons aren’t wildly off, the films do have a lot of similarities. Both are uncommonly taut thrillers. Both make use of the shaky-cam action style. And both involve one man trying to uncover the truth when all around him, people in high places try to cover it up. But this film differs in one big way—it’s actually about something.

Chief warrant officer Roy Miller (Damon) heads up a unit in charge of following intel that is supposed to lead to WMDs in Iraq. None of the intel thus far has proven to be reliable. Men are dying and Miller is getting very frustrated. The intel comes from a source known only as Magellan. He is kept under lock and key by a Pentagon official, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), who is growing tired of Miller and his questions. He’s also growing tired of Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a persistent opponent of Clark’s who wants to use real Iraqi people, including the military, to rebuild the country, as opposed to Clark’s handpicked, American-sponsored puppet.

Trouble rears its ugly head when Miller meets Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), an Iraqi civilian who reports some suspicious activity to Miller’s men. When Miller investigates, he finds the jackpot: Iraqi General Al Rawi (Igal Naor), or the “Jack of Clubs” (named after his playing card in the Iraq deck). Al Rawi knows the location of the WMDs, and everyone wants a piece of him, so Miller goes offline to work with Brown, while Poundstone uses the full force of the American government and military to stop them and capture Al Rawi himself.

“Green Zone” is complex, but not convoluted as many films of this nature tend to be. It’s certainly an adult motion picture, which means it rarely takes the easy way out. In fact, I found it to be surprising and unpredictable, despite having a pretty good idea where it will end up. Because the film is based on real events, we all know there won’t be any WMDs found. But that doesn’t make Miller’s quest to find that out for himself any less satisfying.

Greengrass uses handheld cameras to give the viewer the “you-are-there” feeling. This brings an increased sense of urgency to everything. But I do think he overuses it a bit, especially during the climactic fire fight. The darkness of that scene, in addition to the shaky camera movements, makes the final action scene difficult to follow. But the score, by John Powell, is great and keeps you involved.

The acting is a non-entity in this film. Damon doesn’t have any of his usual charisma (although it’s a step up from what he did in Invictus). Greg Kinnear is solid, but his character is one-note and clichéd. Amy Ryan has a small role as a Judith Miller-type journalist, but she isn’t used enough to make much of an impact. The standout is Khalid Abdalla. Freddy is a very complicated character. We never know if he can really be trusted. He simply wants what is best for his country, but that sometimes goes against what’s best for Miller, which makes him a foe as often as he is a friend.

Audiences shunned “Green Zone,” as did many critics, which is a shame. Where The Hurt Locker developed a living, breathing place called Iraq, “Green Zone” develops a busy plot with some surprises and lots of action. They are quite different films, despite both being about Iraq, but both very worthwhile. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, pleasantly surprised, but I feel quite comfortable giving it a strong recommendation.

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